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The creation of new figurative expressions: psycholinguistic evidence in Italian children, adolescents and adults


According to a developmental model of figurative language acquisition – the GLOBAL ELABORATION MODEL (Levorato & Cacciari, 1995) – the metalinguistic awareness necessary to use figurative language in a creative way is acquired late, and is subsequent to the ability to comprehend and produce figurative expressions. One hundred and eight children aged 9;6, one hundred and twenty-four children aged 11;3, one hundred and twelve adolescents aged 18;5 and one hundred adults participated in Experiment 1 which studied the development of metalinguistic awareness through an elicitation task. The subjects produced a high percentage of figurative expressions with a clear developmental trend that is concluded in adolescence. In addition, Experiment 2 showed that the production of comprehensible, appropriate and novel metaphors, as they were rated by adult judges, also increased with age. These results show that the ability to use figurative language in a creative and sensible way requires a long developmental time span and is strictly connected with the ability to reflect on language as a complex cognitive and interpersonal phenomenon.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Maria Chiara Levorato. Dipartimento di Psicologia dello Sviluppo e della Socializzazione. Via Venezia 8. 35100 Padova, Italy. e-mail:
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The present research was supported by grant no. 96.05131CT080 from the National Council for Research to the first author. Part of the data was presented at the 1996 Meeting of Psychonomic Society (Chicago, USA). We thank the two reviewers and the editor for their helpful suggestions.
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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
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