Investigating How Words are Linked in the Minds of Twelve-Year-Olds

Siti Radhiah Jailani

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 2000


    There are many attempts to explore the mysterious region of the human mind known as the mental lexicon where thousands of words are stored and retrieved. However, relatively little work has been done in the local context in the field of lexical semantics. One of the main questions that I wanted to find out more about was how words are linked in a child's mind. One way of probing this issue was through observing how children describe and communicate the meanings of words.

    Three pairs of boys and three pairs of girls, all twelve years of age, were asked to take turns describing the meanings of nouns, verbs and adjectives to each other. The results of the analysis of their verbal transactions show that there are naturally occurring patterns in the ways words are linked in their minds. The children employed different linguistic strategies to define and describe the words from the three different word classes. Definitions are usually used to describe nouns whereas antonyms seem to be better suited to describe adjectives. Verbs generally trigger the use of collocations and fixed phrases. Boys and girls also exhibit differences in word processing habits. However, twelve-year-olds are as competent as adults in utilizing different linguistic strategies to suit their communicative requirements.