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Metaphor production in young speakers of English and Polish

This study will examine acquisition of metaphor, which is key to conceptualisation, communication, and an essential educational tool. By contrasting usage-based theory and conceptual metaphor theory and through development of a metaphor production framework, this project will determine how metaphor use develops with age in bilingual and monolingual speakers of English and Polish aged 3-6 and what fuels this development.


The aim of the project is to help us understand how monolingual and bilingual children acquire metaphors to conceptualise the world around them. Is metaphor acquisition rooted in our experience of the world, and so age-sensitive, and truly universal? Or is it language-sensitive and driven by caregiver speech and children’s own language abilities?


Monolingual data will be derived from the CHILDES Talkbank which contains transcripts of naturalistic recordings with both Polish and English children aged 2-6 and their primary caregivers. Bilingual data will be collected from 60 bilingual children recruited from Polish Saturday schools in London. Children will take part in two new experimental tasks, using visual stimuli controlled to elicit specific types of metaphors.


The project will produce three main outcomes.

  1. It will fill the gap in our understanding of when and why children start to produce metaphors, an area practically absent from current research, especially that in bilingualism.
  2. As bilingualism is associated with language deficiency and bilingual children are often placed in low ability sets in school, the project will shape positively teachers’ perceptions of migrant children, thus reducing their misplacement.
  3. It will help to recommend educational interventions to grow metaphor use in bilingual speakers, improving these children’s access to UK education and their overall learning.
Project status: Completed

Principal Investigator



Funding Body: Leverhulme Trust

Amount: £75,000

Period: September 2020 - August 2023

Contact us

To find out more about the project, contact Dorota Gaskins.