Compound nouns have multiple meanings in English. The purpose of this study was to explore when children know that compound nouns refer to two objects, one ideally interacting with the other (e.g., "fish shoes" are shoes with fish on them, not next to them). Thirty-five English-speaking three- and four-year-old children participated in this study. They were given both a production and comprehension task with novel compound nouns. The results showed that the three-year-olds and the four-year-olds were equally likely to produce compounds to name two interacting objects. However, the three-year-olds were less likely than the four-year-olds to understand that a compound referred necessarily to two objects. These results demonstrate that children's knowledge of the meaning of compound nouns is still developing in the preschool years. Three possible interpretations of the mismatch in comprehension and production are discussed: (1) there are modality differences in processing by children, (2) the meaning tapped by production and comprehension is not identical, and (3) the tasks differed in complexity. © 2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.
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