Metalinguistic awareness in children: a developmental progression

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Edwards, Harold T.
Kirkpatrick, Anita G.

Journal of psycholinguistic research. 1999 Jul; 28(4): 313-29.


The purpose of this study was to determine if a developmental order exists in the metalinguistic ability of children to make judgments about the form of language while simultaneously attending to a meaningful linguistic context. The stimulus material consisted of a short story into which 20 nonsense lexical items had been substituted. The 20 stimuli were comprised of phonotactically illegal and legal sequences of phonemes. In addition, the lexical items had been positioned to replace either structure or content words within the story. The participants were 90 Caucasian children who were divided into nine age groupings from 4;0 to 12;11. Baseline data were obtained from 10 adults. All subjects were required to respond to the audio-recorded stimuli by pressing a button whenever a nonsense item was perceived. The data were analyzed for both number of correct responses and reaction times. Results revealed a major shift in metalanguage ability occurring between 7 and 8 years of age. The 8- to 12-year-olds responded correctly to more items and at significantly faster rates than the 4- to 7-year-olds. The adults outperformed the children on all tasks, showing that metalanguage development continues beyond childhood.

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