Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Child Language No. 35 (2008), pp. 559–589. Copyright 2008 Cambridge University Press. Used by permission.


Young children learning English are biased to attend to the shape of solid rigid objects when learning novel names. This study seeks further understanding of the processes that support this behavior by examining a previous finding that three-year-old children are also biased to generalize novel names for objects made from deformable materials by shape, even after the materials are made salient. In two experiments, we examined the noun generalizations of 72 two-, three- and four-year- old children with rigid and deformable stimuli. Data reveal that three-year-old, but not two- or four-year-old, children generalize names for deformable things by shape, and that this behavior is not due to the syntactic context of the task. We suggest this behavior is an overgeneralization of three-year-old children’s knowledge of how rigid things are named and discuss the implications of this finding for a developmental account of the origins of the shape bias.