Acquisition of the Novel Name–Nameless Category (N3C) Principle


  • This research was supported by grants HD27042 and HD26982 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded to the first author. We would like to thank the parents and children for their participation in this project. Sharon Forshee assisted us with data collection and reduction. Roberta Golinkoff, Bill Merriman, Mary Ann Romski, Michael Tomasello, and three anonymous reviewers provided thoughtful comments on a previous version of this manuscript.

should be addressed to Carolyn Mervis, Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322.


Toddlers' acquisition of the Novel Name–Nameless Category (N3C) principle was examined to investigate the developmental lexical principles framework and the applicability of the specificity hypothesis to relations involving lexical principles. In Study 1, we assessed the ability of 32 children between the ages of 16 and 20 months to use the N3C principle (operationally defined as the ability to fast map). As predicted, only some of the children could fast map. This finding provided evidence for a crucial tenet of the developmental lexical principles framewor: Some lexical principles are not available at the start of language acquisition. Children who had acquired the N3C principle also had significantly larger vocabularies and were significantly more likely to demonstrate 2-category exhaustive sorting abilities than children who had not acquired the principle. The 2 groups of children did not differ in either age or object permanence abilities. The 16 children who could not fast map were followed longitudinally until they attained a vocabulary spurt; at that time, their ability to fast map was retested (Study 2). Results provided a longitudinal replication of the findings of Study 1. Implications of these findings for both the developmental lexical principles framework and the specificity hypothesis are discussed.