The cyclical ontogeny of ontology: An integrated developmental account of object and speech categorization

Philosophical Psychology 17 (1):45 – 57 (2004)
Abstract
More than a decade of experimental research confirms that external linguistic information provided in the form of word labels can induce a "mutually exclusive" bias against double naming and lead children to infer the name of novel objects and parts (Markman, 1989). Linguistic labels have also been shown to encourage more sophisticated reasoning, particularly with respect to superordinate and atypical object categorization (Gelman & Coley, 1990; Waxman & Markow, 1995). By contrast, however, the inverse possibility that the linguistic labeling of basic-level objects may also developmentally support the kind of "phonological reorganization" (Werker & Tees, 1984) observed within infant speech categorization has yet to be theoretically isolated and experimentally explored. Yet the dynamic of relying on labels to inform object categorization clearly presupposes that potential word labels themselves have already been classified into language-specific phonemic categories. However, a two-staged strategy of first relying on basic-level object categories to refine speech categorization, and then exploiting such learned speech categories to fine tune object categorization would reveal a cyclically opportunistic learner. A uniform assumption of a one to one pairing between (types of) words and (types of) objects allows bootstrapping not only from language to object classification, but also from basic object categorization to phonemic speech classification.
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