How Language Shapes Thought: Individuation and Relational Relativity in Early Word Learning
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What words do children learn earliest and why? These questions rest on how humans organize the world into semantic concepts and how children acquire this parsing. It is assumed that most semantic concepts are learned and not innate. The question is whether concepts arise through the cognitive-perceptual realm, creating conflations of the most salient objects or if language designates how perceptual bits get conflated into concepts. Reviewing the work of Stanford psychology professor Lera Boroditsky I look at how and when semantic concepts enter into language through world experience. Following the line of reasoning that concepts are formed out of experience there are two possibilities that arise. First, aspects of perceptual experience could form inevitable conflations that are lexicalized as unified concepts in what is referred to as cognitive dominance or the formation of concepts out of the cognitive-perceptual field, which are named by language. A second possibility is linguistic dominance: the world presents perceptual bits whose clumping is not pre-ordained, and language has a say in how the bits get conflated into concepts. Both of these positions can explain how concepts are formed, but the distinction between these two positions on concept formation can be made sharper by asking which applies when.
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