Meaning relations in language development: a study of some converse pairs and directional opposites
Macrae, Alison Janet
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It is proposed that an important variable in the pattern of acquisition of pairs of words which are opposite in meaning is the type of opposition which holds between the words. In particular, it is proposed that members of a converse pair will be acquired symmetrically in that there will be no systematic difference in difficulty between them for the young child, while directional opposites will be acquired asymmetrically, with one member of the pair being consistently more difficult, and that these differences will show up in experimental psycholinguistic studies. Studies are presented of the children's handling of the predicates be a brother and have a brother, buy and sell, above, below, over, under, on top of and underneath, to, from, into, out of, onto and off, and go and come. In the case of the converse terms, no systematic difference in difficulty is found between the members of a pair. The children perform better on instructions containing allative prepositions than on those containing ablative prepositions and, although the pattern of results for go and come is complex, the same allative preference is also apparent there. These results support the prediction concerning converse terms. On closer inspection of the results on directional opposites it is concluded that the preference for allative responses did not represent a superior mastery of the positive members of the pairs but a strategy commonly adopted by the children to satisfy the demands of the task only in situations where their understanding of the language failed to discriminate between possible responses. It is suggested that meaning relations are important to the extent that they reflect classes of events which children have varying degrees of difficulty in encoding to linguistic ends.