The University of Sussex

The Role of Linguistic Ambiguity in Understanding and Improving Children's Text Comprehension

Nicola Yuill, Kate Easton

Previous work suggests that poor text comprehenders differ from good ones in linguistic awareness. Two studies investigated the relation between appreciation of linguistic ambiguity and children's text comprehension skill. In Experiment 1, 29 8-11 year-olds recalled, explained and rated funniness of 16 riddles requiring either high or low levels of linguistic awareness. For high-awareness riddles, recall and explanation were significantly related to reading comprehension skill with reading accuracy and age partialled out. There was no such relation for low-awareness riddles. This shows that the relation is due specifically to appreciation of language ambiguity, rather than to general verbal skills. Funniness was unrelated to all other measures. Experiment 2 used riddles and other word games involving ambiguity to train 7-8 year-olds with good or poor comprehension. Control groups were given training with humorous materials not involving linguistic ambiguity. After 7 sessions, trained children at both comprehension levels showed significantly greater improvements in comprehension skill than the control groups. This finding reinforces the claim that comprehension skills are linked to appreciation of linguistic ambiguity.

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