Assigning & Creating Categories
Distinguishing event components is only one part of word learning. Children must also learn categories of actions; for example, that “running” describes both an Olympian and your grandmother when they use their legs in a certain way.
Some of our lab’s recent research investigates 7- to 15-month-old infants’ ability to categorize components of actions, specifically path and manner. We found that 10- to 12-month-old infants are able to form categories for unchanging paths across variable manners as long as a ground object (i.e., the reference object that the figure is moving around, above or under) is present. These findings suggest that infants are attending to the relationship between the path of the figure and the ground object. We also found that infants can form a category of manner at 13 months. This finding is particularly interesting because English is a manner-driven language, so we would expect infants to categorize manner before path.
In a later version of the original categorizational studies, a label (e.g., a nonsense word such as “twilling”) is repeated during the training period to help children recognize that an invariant path or manner (one that is common to four events). We found that the label does help 7- to 9-month-olds categorize paths, but not manners. Even for 10- to 12-month-old infants, labeling manners did not help with categorization.
Children must also learn to categorize event components in more complex ways than captured in these studies. For example, children must learn that “spinning under the ball” is still spinning whether the actor is Starry or a different actor, Tinman. Using the same paradigm as in the other categorization tasks, we find even the youngest infants are able to extend their knowledge to a new actor.
Pruden, S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Shallcross, W. L., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2008). Foundations of verb learning: Comparison helps infants abstract event components. In H. Chan, H. Jacob, & E. Kapia (Eds.), Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, Vol 2, pp. 402-414. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Pruden, S.M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2006). Foundations of verb learning: Labels promote action category formation. In D. Bamman, T. Magnitskaia & C. Zaller (Eds.), Proceedings of the 30th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp.476-488). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Pruden, S.M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Maguire, M.J., & Meyer, M.A. (2004). Foundations of verb learning: Infants form categories of path and manner in motion events. In A. Brugos, L. Micciulla & C.E. Smith (Eds.), Proceedings of the 28th Annual Boston University
Pruden, S., Roseberry, S., Goksun, T. Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R.M. (2013) Infant categorization of path relations during dynamic events. Child Development, 84,1, 331-345.
Pruden, S., Göksun, T., Roseberry, S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M. (2012) Find your manners: Infant’s categorization of the manner of motion in dynamic events. Child Development, 977-991.