Building a better bridge

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


An essential developmental task facing infants and young children from across the world’s communities is to identify key individuals (e.g., their family pet, a favorite sippy cup), to form concepts that capture commonalities among the individuals they encounter (e.g., dog, cup), and to learn words to express them (e.g., “Magic,” “dog,” “cup”). There is now considerable evidence that even before infants take their first steps, their conceptual and linguistic systems are powerfully linked. What this means is that the concepts infants form are shaped not only by the objects they encounter and events they witness but also by the words that accompany them.

Most of the developmental evidence documenting this link between naming and concepts derives from investigations focused on categories of objects (e.g., dog, animal). More recently, researchers have considered the role of language in young children’s categorization and reasoning about people. This work, which has revealed some intriguing parallels that showcase the power of language—and naming in particular—in the early establishment and use of social categories and object categories alike, provides a strong initial footing as we begin to build a bridge that will bring fundamental issues in object categorization into serious contact with issues in social categorization. At the same time, however, it is now apparent that the current blueprint for this bridge is far too narrow. If we are to build a bridge that is sufficiently strong to describe, predict, and explain the development of social categories like those based on race, ethnicity, or gender; how these are shaped by experience; and how they gain inductive force, it is essential that we broaden its footings to include infants and young children raised in a more diverse set of circumstances that reflect more fully the range of human social experience.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNavigating the Social World
Subtitle of host publicationWhat Infants, Children, and Other Species Can Teach Us
EditorsMahzarin R Banjai, Susan A Gelman
PublisherOxford University Press.
ISBN (Print)9780199890712
StatePublished - 2013


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