Why some spatial semantic categories are harder to learn than others: The typological prevalence hypothesis

  title={Why some spatial semantic categories are harder to learn than others: The typological prevalence hypothesis},
  author={Dedre Gentner and Melissa Bowerman},
F or me (Dedre) Dan has been a protean figure. 1 first met him when I was a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego and he was a young professor at Berkeley. He was brilliant, charismatic, and compelling, yet at times engagingly shy. We stayed connected through a circle of friends centered in Nijmegen and the Bay Area, a group united by a passion for psychoIogically juicy theories of language acquisition and for crosslinguistic approaches-both signature positions of Dan's… 

Figures and Tables from this paper

Pragmatic Effects on the Learnability of Evidential Systems

Certain linguistic distinctions appear to be prevalent across different languages. An assumption often found in the literature is that cross-linguistically more frequent distinctions are easier to

Cross-linguistic regularities and learner biases reflect “core” mechanics

The results first suggest that languages regularly contain traces of core knowledge representations and that cross-linguistic regularities can therefore be a useful and easily accessible form of information that bears on the foundations of non-lingsuistic thought.


We explore the following two cognitive questions regarding crosslinguistic variation in lexical semantic systems: Why are some linguistic categories – i.e., the associations between a term and a

Learning Meaning without Primitives: Typology Predicts Developmental Patterns

The use of crosslinguistically elicited data is explored to approximate cognitive natu- ralness, following Gentner and Bowerman’s (2009) Typolog- ical Prevalence Hypothesis and is able to learn the exten- sional meaning of Dutch prepositions reasonably well, and simulates the order of acquisition as well as the developmental pattern of overgeneralization GB observed.

Update on "What" and "Where" in Spatial Language: A New Division of Labor for Spatial Terms.

A second division of labor between two classes of spatial prepositions in English that appear to be quite distinct is proposed, rooted in the fact that geometric knowledge is highly constrained and early-emerging in life, while force-dynamic knowledge of objects and their interactions is relatively unconstrained and needs to be learned piecemeal over a lengthy timeline.

Mapping Space: A Comparative Study

This work subjected descriptions of 116 spatial scenes to multidimensional scaling analyses in order to reveal the structures of the underlying conceptual spaces in each language, and suggests a difference in complexity.

Where are the concepts? What words can and can’t reveal

This work asked speakers of English, Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese to name a set of 36 video clips of human locomotion and to judge the similarities among them, and investigated what name inventories, name extensions, scaling solutions on name similarity, and scaling solution on nonlinguistic similarity from the groups, individually and together, suggest about the underlying concepts.

Infant categorization of path relations during dynamic events.

It is suggested that English-learning infants can categorize path, a component lexicalized in the world's languages.



Comparison in the Development of Categories

'Natural Concepts' in the Spatial Topologial Domain--Adpositional Meanings in Crosslinguistic Perspective: An Exercise in Semantic Typology

Most approaches to spatial language have assumed that the simplest spatial notions are (after Piaget) topological and universal (containment, contiguity, proximity, support, represented as semantic

Cognitive cladistics and cultural override in Hominid spatial cognition

It is reasonable to conclude, it is argued, that language and culture mask the native tendencies in the authors' species, and the correct perspective on human cognition is neither nativist uniformitarian nor “blank slate” but recognizes the powerful impact thatlanguage and culture can have on their shared primate cognitive biases.

Why Nouns Are Learned before Verbs: Linguistic Relativity Versus Natural Partitioning. Technical Report No. 257.

There is overwhelming evidence that children's first words are primarily nouns even across languages, and a cross-linguistic examination of a single sentence suggests that if objecthood is created by spatial relations among perceptual elements, then good concrete objects are particularly cohesive collections of percepts.

A First Language: The Early Stages

For many years, Roger Brown and his colleagues have studied the developing language of pre-school children--the language that ultimately will permit them to understand themselves and the world around

Space Between Languages

The study reveals two kinds of spatial terms evident cross-linguistically: specific spatial terms and general spatial terms (GSTs), which suggest the importance of geometry, function, and qualitative physics to the meanings of both kinds ofatial terms, although the details differ.

The Human Semantic Potential: Spatial Language and Constrained Connectionism

Part 1 Introduction: matter and method space and semantic potential negative evidence and language learning the modelling challenge constrained connectionism a brief exchange an overview of the book.

Can language do the driving? The effect of linguistic input on infants' categorization of support spatial relations.

Results indicate that a familiar word can facilitate infants' formation of an abstract spatial category, leading them to form a category that they do not form in the absence of the word.

Can English-learning toddlers acquire and generalize a novel spatial word?

English-learning toddlers of 21 and 22 months were taught a novel spatial word for four actions resulting in a tight-fit spatial relation, a relation that is lexically marked in Korean but not English, to provide insight into how young word learners begin to form language-specific semantic spatial categories.