Very young children are surrounded by a huge array of objects, all unfamiliar; yet by the age of three, and despite their limited information processing abilities, children are remarkably capable of categorizing objects and learning object labels. In this landmark work on early conceptual and lexical development Ellen Markman challenges the fundamental assumptions of traditional theories of language acquisition and proposes a new notion of how children acquire categories.
Markman shows that categorization and vocabulary learning are problems of induction and are solved by children in part because there are constraints on the kinds of hypotheses they consider. She argues that children acquire categories in ways that circumvent the need for sophisticated hypothesis testing; they come to the concept learning and language learning tasks equipped with assumptions about the nature of categories and the nature of category terms.
By focusing on different kinds of categories, Markman notes, we can begin to understand the basis of human categorization She argues that the understanding of concepts that has been won in the recent literature on adult cognition helps resolve longstanding controversies about development. Backed by experiments she and her students have carried out, Markman discusses and interprets concepts defined by family resemblances, subordinate basic and superordinate categories, collections and classes, implicit and explicit categories, ad hoe categories, and natural kinds and nonnatural kinds.
Markman considers how children not only acquire categories but how they are able to relate them to each other in hierarchies and modify them as they gain new knowledge and abilities. She notes that categories are vehicles for applying information in new circumstances; they not only embody knowledge, they are means of extending knowledge as well.
Categorization and Naming in Children is included in the series Learning, Development and Conceptual Change, edited by Lila Gleitman, Susan Carey, Elissa Newport, and Elizabeth Spelke. A Bradford Book