Children's acquisition of fundamental biological concepts (living thing, animal, plant) is shaped by the way these concepts are named. In English, but not Indonesian, the name "animal" is polysemous: One sense includes all animate objects, and the other excludes humans. Because names highlight object categories, if the same name ("animal") points to two different, hierarchically related biological concepts, children should have difficulty settling on the scope of that term and its close neighbors (e.g., "alive"). Experiments with 4- to 9-year-old English- and Indonesian-speaking children revealed that "alive" poses unique interpretive challenges, especially for English-speaking children. When asked to identify entities that are "alive," older Indonesian-speaking children selected both plants and animals, but their English-speaking counterparts tended to exclude plants, which suggests that they may have misaligned "alive" with one of the "animal" senses. This work underscores the importance of considering language and cultural factors in studying the acquisition of fundamental concepts about the biological world.
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