Different kinds of concepts and different kinds of words: What words do for human cognition

Sandra R. Waxman and Susan A. Gelman

in The Making of Human Concepts

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780199549221
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191724152 | DOI:
Different kinds of concepts and different kinds of words: What words do for human cognition

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This chapter argues that words and concepts are intricately intertwined throughout human development, and that the link between them has important conceptual consequences, motivating us to move beyond the information immediately available to us by virtue of our perceptual experiences. It summarizes current theoretical views and empirical evidence attesting to the power and complexity of these links between words and concepts, and argues against the view that simple attentional mechanisms can account fully for the acquisition of words and concepts. The chapter also contends that sweeping claims about words and concepts need to be tempered by careful consideration of the kind of concept and the kind of linguistic expression that is recruited to capture it. Yet at their core, most approaches espousing a simple attentional view tend to treat ‘word’, ‘concept’, and ‘development’ as unanalysed units. This is a shortcoming: concepts that the human mind deals with are more complicated, subtle, flexible, and diverse; the words that comprise the languages of the world support this conceptual complexity, subtlety, flexibility, and diversity.

Keywords: language; words; human cognition; word; concept; development

Chapter.  15840 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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