Purpose: The paucity of data on idiom development in adolescents, particularly rural adolescents, limits the ability of speech-language pathologists and educators to test and teach idioms appropriately in this population. This study was designed to delineate the interrelationships between context, familiarity, and academic literacy relative to rural adolescents' idiom knowledge.
Method: Ninety-five rural eighth graders (M age=13.4 years) were quasi-randomly assigned to complete the Idiom Comprehension Test (Qualls & Harris, 1999) in one of three contexts: idioms in a short story (n=25), idioms in isolation (n=32), and idioms in a verification task (n=38). For all conditions, the identical 24 idioms8 each of high, moderate, and low familiarity (Nippold & Rudzinski, 1993)were presented. For a subset (N=54) of the students, reading and language arts scores from the California Achievement Tests (5th ed., 1993), a standardized achievement test, were correlated with performance on the idiom test.
Results: Performance in the story condition and on high-familiarity idioms showed the greatest accuracy. For the isolation and verification conditions, context interacted with familiarity. Associations existed between idiom performance and reading ability and idiom performance and language literacy, but only for the story and verification conditions. High-proficiency readers showed the greatest idiom accuracy.
Clinical Implications: The results support the notion that context facilitates idiom comprehension for rural adolescents, and that idiom testing should consider not only context, but idiom familiarity as well. Thus, local norms should be established. Findings also confirm that good readers are better at comprehending idioms, likely resulting from enriched vocabulary obtained through reading. These normative data indicate what might be expected when testing idiom knowledge in adolescents with language impairments.
KEY WORDS: idiom comprehension, adolescents, rural, context, literacy
Submitted on September 28, 2002
Accepted on October 12, 2002