Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 205–225 | Cite as

Adjective Semantics, World Knowledge and Visual Context: Comprehension of Size Terms by 2- to 7-Year-Old Dutch-Speaking Children

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The interpretation of size terms involves constructing contextually-relevant reference points by combining visual cues with knowledge of typical object sizes. This study aims to establish at what age children learn to integrate these two sources of information in the interpretation process and tests comprehension of the Dutch adjectives groot ‘big’ and klein ‘small’ by 2- to 7-year-old children. The results demonstrate that there is a gradual increase in the ability to inhibit visual cues and to use world knowledge for interpreting size terms. 2- and 3-year-old children only used the extremes of the perceptual range as reference points. From age four onwards children, like adults, used a cut-off point in the mid-zone of a series. From age five on, children were able to integrate world knowledge and perceptual context. Although 7-year-olds could make subtle distinctions between sizes of various object classes, their performance on incongruent items was not yet adult-like.


Size terms Language acquisition Reference points Adjectives 



The research reported in this paper was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), grant 446-08-018. I would like to thank all children, parents and teachers who made this investigation possible. I am also grateful to Martine Coene for help in setting up the experiment and Naomi Kamoen for insightful comments and practical assistance.

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This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Dutch Language and Culture, Utrecht Institute of LinguisticsUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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