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‘Do you get it?’ An investigation into the different types of ambiguity English-speaking children (aged 6-11) are able to comprehend in verbal riddles

Baker, Giulia 2017. ‘Do you get it?’ An investigation into the different types of ambiguity English-speaking children (aged 6-11) are able to comprehend in verbal riddles. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis used the Incongruity Resolution (IR) Theory of humour (Suls 1972, 1983) as a framework within which to investigate English speaking children’s ability to comprehend different types of ambiguity in verbal riddles. Five types of ambiguity (lexical, phonological, morphological, syntactic and idiomatic) were defined by the researcher based upon the way(s) in which linguistic features embedded within riddle form(s) (ie. their actual wording) contributed to producing an ambiguity. These definitions were then used to investigate participants’ comprehension of verbal riddles. These definitions are recommended for future application in order to overcome previous inconsistencies in types of language phenomena constituting discrete ambiguity types when testing children’s humour development and ambiguity comprehension. Participants comprised sixty children equally divided into three primary school Year Groups: Year 2 (aged 6-7), Year 4 (aged 8-9) and Year 6 (aged 10-11). Comprehension of ambiguities was measured (a) receptively through a multiple choice task in which participants were required to identify an ambiguous punchline and (b) productively through a verbal explanation task in which participants were required to explain their understanding of a riddle containing an ambiguous word/phrase. Comprehension criteria were developed to accommodate the different ways in which participants communicated their understanding of ambiguities. Results were used to identify areas of accelerated development in ambiguity comprehension and to establish whether some types of ambiguity are easier/harder for young children to comprehend. Facility of comprehension was linked to linguistic properties manipulated to elicit humour and to the different processing demands they require. A parallel was drawn between the developing ability to comprehend verbal ambiguities and children’s early language acquisition which itself relies upon the sequential acquisition of increasingly complex language processing skills. Findings from the study were applied theoretically to further understanding of humour development and suggestions were made as to how the final stage in McGhee’s (2002) five-step framework might be further refined. Results were evaluated in order to inform classroom practice and to show how verbal riddles might be used in the classroom to meet stipulated criteria for ‘learning experiences’ and ‘skills development’ as detailed in the new (2015) Primary Curriculum for the teaching of English in Wales – specifically those relating to oracy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 6 October 2017
Last Modified: 22 May 2019 08:26

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