One Cow Does Not an Animal Make: Young Children Can Extend Novel Words at the Superordinate Level



Six match-to-sample picture/object selection experiments were designed to explore children's knowledge about superordinate words (e.g., “food”) and how they acquire this knowledge. Three factors were found to influence the learning and extension of superordinate words in 3- to 5-year-old children (N= 230): The number of standards (one versus two), the type of standards presented (from different basic-level categories versus from the same basic-level category), and the nature of the object representations used (pictures versus objects). A different pattern of superordinate word acquisition was found between 3-year-olds and 4- and 5-year-olds. Although 4- and 5-year-olds could learn and extend novel words to superordinate categories in the presence of two picture exemplars from different categories or a single three-dimensional (3-D) exemplar, 3-year-olds could do so only in the presence of two 3-D exemplars. These findings indicate that young children's acquisition of superordinate words is influenced by multiple factors and that there is a developmental progression from multiple exemplars to single exemplars in superordinate word learning.