Individual Differences in Children's and Parents' Generic Language


  • This research was supported by NICHD Grant R01 HD36043 to Gelman. We are grateful to all the parents and children who participated in the research. We thank Cara Brennan, Erin Boyle, Lindsay Hayes, Heather Hennrick, Melissa Herrett, Taylor Hicks, Courtney Hsing, Kara Kime, Christina Koch, and Amanda Markowitz for help with research assistance. Portions of these data were presented at the 2011 meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development.


Generics (“Dogs bark”) convey important information about categories and facilitate children's learning. Two studies with parents and their 2- or 4-year-old children (= 104 dyads) examined whether individual differences in generic language use are as follows: (a) stable over time, contexts, and domains, and (b) linked to conceptual factors. For both children and parents, individual differences in rate of generic production were stable across time, contexts, and domains, and parents' generic usage significantly correlated with that of their own children. Furthermore, parents' essentialist beliefs correlated with their own and their children's rates of generic frequency. These results indicate that generic language use exhibits substantial stability and may reflect individual differences in speakers' conceptual attitudes toward categories.