Establishing New Subcategories: The Role of Category Labels and Existing Knowledge

Sandra R. Waxman*, Elizabeth F. Shipley, Barbara Shepperson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Previous research has revealed that novel nouns highlight category relations at superordinate and basic levels but, paradoxically, make subordinate classification more difficult for preschool children. In Experiment 1, we provide additional evidence that novel nouns put 3‐year‐old children at a disadvantage in subordinate classification. We suggest that this reflects young children's inclination to label and classify objects at the basic level. In Experiments 2 and 3, we identify 2 circumstances under which 3‐year‐old children alter their basic level expectation. In Experiment 2, we provide children with specific information to distinguish the relevant subclasses. In Experiment 3, we introduce the novel nouns in conjunction with the familiar basic level labels. Under each of these circumstances, novel nouns do not present an obstacle to subordinate classification. Children's linguistic biases (e.g., the noun‐category bias) and their existing knowledge and vocabularies jointly influence early conceptual development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-138
Number of pages12
JournalChild Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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