Class of 1999
University of Waterloo
200 University Avenue West
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1 Canada
Thesis -Developing Knowledge of Polysemous Vocabulary
This study investigated the development of recognition of multiple meanings of words during the school years. Children age 7, 10, 13, and 16 (42 in total) were tested for their knowledge of all the meanings of a large random sample of words. Approximately 47% of the words on which the children were tested had more than one meaning. Estimates of total recognition vocabulary from these results show that vocabulary knowledge increases from over 14000 words at age 7 to over 70000 words at age 16. However, as remarkable as this word knowledge is, results also indicate that 7-year old children can be estimated to know over 22000 word meanings and this knowledge increases to about 140000 word meanings by age 16. This investigation also considered the types of secondary meanings children knew. Three types of meanings were identified according to their relation to the principal meaning (meaning known by the most children) of the word. Homonyms were identified as meanings that share no semantic relationship with the main meaning. Conversions were meanings that were a different grammatical part of speech from the principal meaning. Meanings that shared some other semantic relationship were called metaphorical extensions. Although, knowledge of each meaning type increased with age, 7-year-olds knew a greater proportion of the converted meanings than of the homonyms or metaphorical extensions. This proportion decreased with age as a greater proportion of homonyms and metaphorically extended meanings were learned. The degree of semantic relatedness between secondary meanings and the main meaning was significantly correlated with the number of children who knew those meanings. This suggests that children may learn more highly related meanings, especially those that are merely converted from one part of speech to another, before they learn meanings with more distant connections to the principal meaning.
I plan to continue to study the influences to children's development of knowledge of words and meanings such as language exposure, reading, and school curriculum. I would also like to compare the influences on the development of vocabulary in English to those in other languages.
I have recently become interested in Dr. Kathleen Bloom's work on the aucoustic properties of speech. I am interested in studying how the qualities of children's speech influence their learning opportunities in the classroom such as teacher and peer perceptions.
CLLRNet Research Projects
Last Modified: February 04 2002 11:26:34.