First and second language child speakers of Afrikaans’s knowledge of figurative language

  • Kristin Van der Merwe
  • Frenette Southwood


This article reports on a study that compared the knowledge of figurative language in first (L1) and second language (L2) speakers of Afrikaans, aged 8 to 10. To assess comprehension of figurative language, 25 idioms were initially presented without context; only if the child gave an incorrect interpretation was the idiom placed in context. There was no statistically significant difference between the comprehension of idioms by the two language groups and they gave comparable numbers of literal interpretations. Providing context was beneficial to both groups. In the simile completion task, the child had to give the last word of a simile read to him by the researcher. This proved easier for both groups than the idiom task, but still no significant differences were found between the two groups. The results imply that the extent to which a child is aware of the existence of figurative language (i.e., that what is said is not always what is meant) possibly has a greater influence on his/her figurative language skills than does the amount of exposure to figurative language used by others. This implies that an awareness of figurative language as well as the specific meaning of idioms and similes needs to be taught explicitly, regardless of whether the child is an L1 or L2 learner.

Author Biographies

Kristin Van der Merwe
Kristin van der Merwe has an interest in psycholinguistics, particularly in language acquisition by children with special needs.
Frenette Southwood
Frenette Southwood is a lecturer in the Department of General Linguisitcs at Stellenbosch University. She has an interest in developmental language disorders and in second language acquisition. Her e-mail address is