Young Children's Learning of Novel Semantic Spatial Categories
According to linguistic relativity theory, language exerts a strong influence on the development of our minds, particularly during childhood (Whorf, 1956). One area in which this influence can be observed is that of spatial relations. For example, in Dutch, the English category of support ("on") is further subdivided into two categories, the distinction between which roughly corresponds to the difference between vertical ("aan" in Dutch) and horizontal ("op") (e.g., Bowerman, 1996). The linguistic relativity theory would predict that this dichotomy would be more easily perceivable to children who were being raised speaking Dutch than to children who were being raised speaking English. This experiment attempts to test the ability of English speaking two-year-olds to learn the spatial category. Twenty-two children between 25 and 30 months of age first underwent a short training session in which toy models demonstrating each of the spatial relations were presented along with a novel word. Children were then tested for comprehension in a preferential looking paradigm. Children provided no evidence that they learned either of the two possible novel spatial categories (aan and op). The results suggest that learning novel semantic spatial categories may be challenging.
Cornell Presidential Research Scholars
infant cognition; language learning; spatial categories
dissertation or thesis