Two-Year-Olds Will Name Artifacts By Their Functions

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Child Development


Do young children take functional information into account in naming artifacts? In three studies of lexical categorization, 112 children 2 years of age learned new names for novel artifacts with novel functions and then extended the names to new objects. The objects were designed to have functions that were causally related in simple and compelling ways to perceptible aspects of their physical structure. Despite only minimal opportunity to familiarize themselves with the objects, children generalized the names in accordance with the objects' functions. This result obtained even when children had to discover the functions of the named objects on their own (Experiment 2) and when all the test objects had some discernible function (Experiment 3). Two-year-olds name by function when they can make sense of the relation between the appearances and the functions of artifacts.