Pre-literate understanding of speech balloons

Yannicopoulou, A. (2004). Visual Aspects of Written Texts: Preschoolers View Comics. L1- Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 4, 169-181.

This study assessed preschool aged children’s ability to understand various features of Carriers (i.e. thought bubbles and speech balloons), despite not being able to understand written language. Tests showed:

– 87.1% recognized angular balloons meant anger.
– 83.7% correlated a flowery border to politeness.
– 78.7% recognized increase in volume by increase in size.
– Speech vs. thought balloons were distinguished for their meaning at chance (49.7% speech/47.5% thought)
– Most poor was recognition of other languages as indicated by variation in text.

These results were fairly interesting, especially since they imply that children can recognize aspects of manner of speaking (politeness, anger, etc), yet can’t differentiate plain thoughts versus speech. Part of this might relate to a general developmental trajectory though — that children don’t yet have “theory of mind,” the recognition that other individuals’ have thoughts of their own. Preschool children are roughly at the age where this ability is developing, so the problems they had recognizing thought bubbles might be due to their lack of understanding thoughts in other people in general.

However, these data contrast with other studies in this regard that I’ll be posting sometime soon.


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