A cross-linguistic examination of the noun-category bias: Its existence and specificity in French- and Spanish-speaking preschool-aged children

Sandra R. Waxman*, Ann Senghas, Susana Benveniste

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

36 Scopus citations

Abstract

Previous research has revealed that English-speaking preschoolers expect that a novel count noun (but not a novel adjective), applied to an individual object, may be extended to other members of the same basic or superordinate level category. However, because the existing literature is based almost exclusively on English-speakers, it is unclear whether this specific expectation is evident in children acquiring languages other than English. The experiments reported here constitute the first cross-linguistic, developmental test of the noun-category linkage. We examined monolingual French- and Spanish-speaking preschool-aged children's superordinate level categorization in a match-to-sample task. Target objects were introduced with (a) novel words presented as count nouns (e.g., "This is a fopin"), (b) novel words presented as adjectives (e.g., "This is a fopish one"), or (c) no novel words. Like English-speakers, French- and Spanish-speakers extended count nouns consistently to other category members. This is consistent with our prediction that the mapping between count nouns and object categories may be a universal phenomenon. However, children's extension of novel adjectives varied across languages. Like English-speakers, French-speakers did not extend novel adjectives to other members of the same category. In contrast, Spanish-speakers did extend novel adjectives, like count nouns, in this fashion. This is consistent with our prediction that the mappings between adjectives and their associated applications vary across languages. The results provide much-needed cross-linguistic support for the noun-category linkage and illustrate the importance of the interplay between constraints within the child and input from the language environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-218
Number of pages36
JournalCognitive Psychology
Volume32
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence

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