Early noun vocabularies: Do ontology, category structure and syntax correspond?

Larissa K. Samuelson, Linda B. Smith

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235 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines children's early noun vocabularies and their interpretations of names for solid and non-solid things. Previous research in this area assumes that ontology, category organization and syntax correspond in the nouns children learn early such that categories of solid things are organized by shape similarity and named with count nouns and categories of non-solid things are organized by material similarity and named with mass nouns. In Experiment 1 we examine the validity of this assumption in a corpus of early-learned nouns and conclude that one side of the solidity-syntax-category organization mapping is favored. In our second experiment we examine the relation between early noun vocabulary development and novel word generalization. We find that children between 17 and 33 months of age do not systematically generalize names for solid things by shape similarity until they already know many nouns, and do not systematically generalize names for non-solid substances by material similarity. The implications for children's acquisition of the ontological distinction, count/mass syntax, and novel nouns are discussed. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-33
Number of pages33
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 1999


  • Categories
  • Nouns
  • Ontology
  • Syntax
  • Vocabulary development

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