Words Are Not Merely Features: Only Consistently Applied Nouns Guide 4-year-olds' Inferences About Object Categories

Susan A. Graham, Amy E. Booth, Sandra R. Waxman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

Although there is considerable evidence that nouns highlight category-based commonalities, including both those that are perceptually available and those that reflect underlying conceptual similarity, some have claimed that words function merely as features of objects. Here, we directly test these alternative accounts. Four-year-olds (n = 140) were introduced to two different novel animals that were highlighted with nouns, adjectives, or stickers. Children heard a nonobvious novel property applied to the first animal and were asked whether this property applied to other animals that filled the similarity space between the original two animals. When the two animals were named with the same noun, children extended the property broadly throughout the similarity space. When the animals were marked with adjectives or stickers, children adopted a similarity-based pattern. These findings demonstrate clearly that nouns exert a unique effect on categorization-they promote category formation and engage conceptual reasoning beyond perceptual similarity alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-145
Number of pages10
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Volume8
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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