Children hear more about what is atypical than what is typical

AbstractHow do children learn the typical features of objects in the world? For many objects, this information must come from the language they hear. However, language does not veridically reflect the world: People are more likely to talk about atypical features (e.g., “purple carrot”) than typical features (e.g., “orange carrot”). Does the speech children hear from their parents also overrepresent atypical features? We examined the typicality of adjectives produced by parents in a large, longitudinal corpus of parent-child interaction. Across nearly 2000 unique adjective–noun pairs, we found parents’ adjectives predominantly mark atypical features of objects, although parents of very young children are relatively more likely to comment on typical features as well. We then used vector space models to show that learning the typical features of common categories from linguistic input alone is challenging even with sophisticated statistical inference techniques.

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