Theories of relations between language and conceptual development benefit from empirical evidence for concepts available in infancy, but such evidence is comparatively scarce. Here, we examine early representations of specific concepts, namely, sets of dynamic events corresponding either to predicates involving two variables with a reversible, asymmetric relation between them (such as the set of all events that correspond to a linguistic phrase like “a dog is pushing a car,”) or to comparatively simpler, one-variable predicates (such as the set of events corresponding to a phrase like “a dog is jumping.”). We develop a non-linguistic, anticipatory eye-tracking task that can be administered to both infants and adults, and we use this task to gather evidence for the formation and use of such one-and two-place-predicate classes (which we refer to as event sortals) in 12–24-mo-old infants, and in adults with and without concurrent verbal prose shadowing. Using visually similar stimuli for both the simpler (one-place) and the more complex (reversible, asymmetric, two-place) concepts, we find that infants only show evidence for forming and generalizing one-place event sortals, and, while adults succeed with both kinds in the absence of verbal shadowing, shadowing hampers their ability to form and use the asymmetric two-place event sortals. In a subsequent experiment with adults, we find that if the shadowing material is grammatically impoverished, adults now succeed in forming and using both one- and two-place event sortals. We discuss implications of these results for theories of concept acquisition, and the role of language in this process.
Language, Conceptual development, Predication, Transitive structures, Event representation, Verbal shadowing
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de Villiers, Jill, "The Role of Language in Building Abstract, Generalized Conceptual Representations of One-And Two-Place Predicates: A Comparison Between Adults and Infants" (2021). Philosophy: Faculty Publications, Smith College, Northampton, MA.