The Effects of Naming Practices on Children’s Understanding of Living Things

Florencia K. Anggoro, Sandra R Waxman, Douglas L Medin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


We investigated the development of an understanding of the concept LIVING THING in 4- to 10-year-old monolingual children acquiring either English or Indonesian. In English, LIVING THING is comprised of two major constituent categories, ANIMAL and PLANT. However, the word animal has (at least) two senses, and these overlap in their scope. One sense of animal includes both humans and non-human animals; the other sense excludes humans and includes only non-human animals. In Indonesian, the constituents are organized differently: neither this overlapping category structure nor the polysemous use of animal exists. We consider the consequence of this cross-linguistic difference on acquisition, asking whether underlying category structure, coupled with the polysemy of the word animal, interferes with the acquisition of the concept ALIVE or LIVING THING. Using a Sorting Task, we compared English- and Indonesian-speaking children’s ability to form a category that includes all and only LIVING THINGS. All children successfully formed this inclusive category when they were instructed to sort on the basis of terms like die or grow. Importantly, and as predicted, we found cross-linguistic differences when children were asked to sort the very same objects on the basis of the term alive. English-speaking children performed less well when sorting on the basis of alive than on the basis of the other terms, and indeed tended to include animals, but not plants. In contrast, Indonesian-speaking children showed no such decrement. We suggest that this cross- linguistic developmental difference likely stems from the naming practices and underlying conceptual structure in each respective language community.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 27th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsBruno G Bara, Lawrence Barsalou, Monica Bucciarelli
PublisherCognitive Science Society
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)0-9768318-1-3
StatePublished - 2005


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