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Sharks attack humans, but most sharks don't attack humans: Learning to express generalizations in language (talk recording available)
Dr. Susan Gelman-TALK CANCELED
Tuesday, September 28, 2010, 01:00pm - 02:00pm
Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan
My talk will examine the challenges that learners face when learning to express general categories (e.g., "sharks" in "Sharks attack humans"). These expressions, known as "generics", are both conceptually and linguistically challenging. Although we experience the world in terms of individual objects and events, we must form abstractions that extend beyond these individual entities. Moreover, the same forms of language that are used to express generics are also used to refer to particular individuals (compare "The dog is a 4-legged animal" to "The dog is sleeping"). These issues are particularly acute for young children, who traditionally have been characterized as concrete thinkers. In contrast, I suggest that generics are a default mode of generalization for human learners, and that generic language is a powerful tool for conveying knowledge to young children.