An Analysis of the Functions that Symbols Play in the Development of a Child's Symbolic

Stefan Mieszalski, Krystyna Nowak-Fabrykowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of this study was to examine the symbolic thinking of children as well to develop a system for analyzing the functions that symbols play. The study sought to accomplish this goal by analysis of symbols incorporated into children’s’ drawings. The data was collected in a French Immersion elementary school in Winnipeg, Canada during seven-month period, and involved twenty-four children, nine from kindergarten and fifteen from grade two. The conceptual framework for this study is based on Spradley's (1979) Relational Theory of Meaning and the Symbolic Integrationist approach of Charon (1989). For analysis of the data, the Semantic Relationship and Function (SRF) system was designed based on Spradley's (1979) Universal Semantic Relationship model. In the SRF system, the semantic relationships between the symbol and referent(s) indicate which function the symbol plays. The research findings demonstrated semantic relationships that can be identified. Also, the findings indicated that the major function that symbol(s) play is simulative. The other functions appear in the following order: creative, expressive, cognitive and socializing. Further analysis of data revealed that more evocative than referential relationships existed between the symbols and referent in work of kindergarten students than of grade two students. However, the kind of assigned exercises also plays an important role in the type of achieved relationships. The significance of the findings, in general, is that in order to determine the function(s) of symbols, specific semantic relationships should first be identified. The Semantic Relationship and Function system explains what kind of referents and semantic relationships are associated with specific functions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-175
JournalKwartalnik Pedagogiczny
Issue number(219
StatePublished - Dec 2011


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