Developmental Science

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Volume 5 Issue 2 (May 2002), Pages F1-F7, 151-264

How children know the relevant properties for generalizing object names (pages 219-232)


Young children’s novel word extensions indicate that their animal categories, like those of adults, are characterized by multiple similarities among instances; whereas their artifact categories, again like those of adults, are characterized more simply by commonalities among instances in shape. Three experiments shed light on the nature and development of a mechanism that enables children to organize novel lexical categories differently for different kinds of objects. Experiment 1 shows that, by adult judgments, animals and artifacts present different category organizations. Experiment 2 shows relations between both age and the number of nouns young children have acquired, and children’s kind‐specific generalizations of newly learned nouns. Experiment 3 is a training study in which even younger children show an ability to learn and then generalize highly abstract relations between different contextual cues and different category structures; and importantly, to learn more than one set of such relations at a time. Together, these three findings indicate one way in which children are able to rapidly and accurately form lexical categories that parallel those of adults in their language community.

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