Categorization and Naming: Basic-Level Sorting in Eighteen-Month-Olds and Its Relation to Language


  • This research was supported by NSF grant no. BNS-8919916 to the first author. We wish to thank Keiko Nakamura, Lauren Silver, and especially Therese Baumberger for assistance with the research and Craig Harris for assistance with analysis.

Author's address for correspondence: Alison Gopnik, Department of Psychology, Tolman Hall, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720.


2 studies investigate whether 18-month-old children spontaneously sort objects into basic-level categories, and how this ability is related to naming. In Study 1, 18-month-old children were given spontaneous sorting tasks, involving both identical objects and objects with basic-level intracategory variation. Children were scored as having passed the tasks if they produced “exhaustive grouping,” that is, physically grouped all the objects of one kind into one location and the objects of the other kind into a different location. The children also received means-ends and object-permanence tasks. Children's parents received a checklist of early names. Children who produced exhaustive grouping used significantly more names than those who did not, in both identical and basic-level cases. There was no such relation between object-permanence and naming or between means-ends performance and naming. In Study 2, children received arrays of the same objects, with either identical objects or objects with basic-level variation in each group. No significant differences were found between the identical and basic-level tasks. However, as in the previous task, performance on both types of categorization was related to naming. Children who produced exhaustive grouping were reported to produce more names than those who did not. There appears to be a close relation between object categorization and naming in young children. The theoretical implications of this empirical association are discussed.