Linking language & categorization in infancy

Brock Ferguson*, Sandra Waxman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Language exerts a powerful influence on our concepts. We review evidence documenting the developmental origins of a precocious link between language and object categories in very young infants. This collection of studies documents a cascading process in which early links between language and cognition provide the foundation for later, more precise ones. We propose that, early in life, language promotes categorization at least in part through its status as a social, communicative signal. But over the first year, infants home in on the referential power of language and, by their second year, begin teasing apart distinct kinds of names (e.g. nouns, adjectives) and their relation to distinct kinds of concepts (e.g. object categories, properties). To complement this proposal, we also relate this evidence to several alternative accounts of language's effect on categorization, appealing to similarity ('labels-As-features'), familiarity ('auditory overshadowing'), and communicative biases ('natural pedagogy').

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-552
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology(all)


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