In this paper we investigate children's processing and comprehension of metonymy, a type of figurative use of language where an object or individual is referred to via a salient property (e.g., The beard used to refer to a man with a big beard). We tested 126 children aged 3 to 8 years and an adult control group, using a novel methodology which combines an online (eye-tracking) and an offline (picture selection) measure. The results from the picture selection task replicate the findings of a U-shape reported in Falkum et al. (2017), with a better performance of 3-year-olds compared to 4- to-5-year-olds, who tend to prefer literal interpretations of target metonymic utterances. The gaze data, however, while also suggesting an early sensitivity to metonymy from the age of 3, show a continuous improvement of understanding with age. We discuss the results in the light of theoretical accounts of children's pragmatic development. We argue that eye-tracking is a ‘purer’ and cognitively less demanding measure of figurative language comprehension, which sheds new light on children's developing pragmatic competence.
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