Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Special Education and Communication Disorders

First Advisor

Dr. Laurence Hilton

Second Advisor

Dr. Tom Lorsbach

Third Advisor

Dr. Blaine Ward


The ability to communicate one's needs, desires and knowledge is a basic requirement for succeeding in society. It is an ability that is taken for granted by most individuals for whom mastery seemed automatic. The stages of language acquisition and development in young children have been extensively researched and documented. A wide range of semantic abilities of college freshman also have been investigated. Beyond the traditional college age, eighteen to twenty-two years, little normative data concerning functional language ability is available. Information pertinent to the evolution of language functioning across the adult lifespan would be useful in planning appropriate goals for adults with acquired language disorders and in making decisions regarding the termination of therapy services for clients. In a related area, normative data concerning adult language proficiency would be beneficial in planning educational materials for the normal healthy adult population. There is, however, a crucial issue which must be addressed at the outset of a study which is proposing to describe and compare individuals of varying ages on ·a cognitive processing task. One must be cognizant of the fact that individuals of widely varying ages are functioning in response to different foundations of life experiences, educational backgrounds and physical well-being. In recognition of this, Arenberg (1977) suggested calling differences found in cross-sectional studies "age/cohort" differences. It must not be assumed that apparent age-related deficits have any direct ·causal relationship with the aging process. Such deficits may, in fact, be more closely related to societal factors (i.e. forced retirement, stereotypes) or health conditions (i.e. circulatory, renal, thyroid disorders) which, while more prevalent among the aged, are not a direct result of the the aging process. (Avorn, 1982; Craik & Byrd, 1982). The focus of this study was to investigate and compare the ability of adults from three age groups (18-30, 33-56, 65-86) to retrieve divergent lexical definitions for graphically presented homographs. A divergent processing task requires cognitive flexibility as well as the ability to purposefully shift one's attention. Previous research by Guilford (1967) and Chapey, Rigrodsky and Morrison (1975) provided the basis for the design of this study.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Special Education and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1985 Barbara J. Gross.