LINGUIST List 14.2199

Tue Aug 19 2003

Diss: Lang Acq: Bloomquist: 'Cross-cultural...'

Editor for this issue: Naomi Fox <>




Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2003 16:15:10 +0000
From: jbloomqu <>

Institution: State University of New York at Buffalo
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2003

Author: jennifer bloomquist 


Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition

Dissertation Director 1: Jeri Jaeger
Dissertation Director 2: Jean-Pierre Koenig
Dissertation Director 3: Wolfgang Wolck

Dissertation Abstract: 

The purpose of this study was twofold: to examine child attempts at
categorizing unfamiliar referents and to determine whether children
from varying socio-economic environments approach linguistic
categorization differently. Specifically, the study focused on whether
there are universal trends in the development of categorization or if
cultural factors play a role in children's criteria for labeling
unfamiliar referents. In addition, variations in the linguistic
strategies used by children for the naming of novel referents
according to class and race were examined.

Previous work has suggested that in determining category membership,
children and adults rely on different criteria (e.g. shape
vs. function). However, the majority of these studies have been
restricted to narrow age limits and homogeneous populations that leave
questions concerning the impact of culture on developmental trends in
categorization. Studies in education have shown that poor and minority
children are often out-performed scholastically by their European
American and middle-to-upper-class peers (Anastasiow, Hanes & Hanes,
1982; Neisser, 1986). It has also been established that there is a
correlation between parenting behaviors that differ across class and
race lines and children's abilities in school (Hart & Risley, 1995;
Ninio, 1990). In the few studies done on racial and socio-economic
differences in naming behavior, it has been demonstrated that when
naming unfamiliar objects, middle-class and European American children
out-perform working-class and African American subjects (Whittesley &
Shipley, 1999; Lawrence, 1997; Lawrence & Shipley, 1996).

	The current study involved an experiment that forced
categorization of problematic referents among subjects aged two
through six. African American and European American children from
working and middle-class backgrounds were shown a series of pictures
including "normal" referents (e.g. cat or car), and unfamiliar tokens
which were combinations thereof (e.g. a clock with a telephone handset
or a frog with rabbit ears). The children were not taught labels for
the novel referents as in other studies of this type, but were asked
to name both the familiar and the novel items. Results revealed that,
in addition to differences found at varying age levels, there were
also differences in the responses of the children according to
socio-economic class; however, race did not appear to be an
influential factor. Significantly, variations in linguistic
performance across the classes were found in terms of the number of
morphemes and the lexical types each group used to label the
unfamiliar referents. The middle-class children consistently used a
greater number of morphemes and used more sophisticated linguistic
strategies (e.g., compounds and descriptive phrases) than their
working-class peers. However, the children did not vary on the basic
cognitive properties of naming as there were no class differences in
terms of dependence on shape or function for labeling. These
disparities suggested not that the children from each class had
different criteria for categorization, but that there was a difference
in their understanding of the requirements of the task itself, a
discrepancy often misconstrued as a racially or economically-linked
deficit in achievement, rather than a mismatch in cultural
expectations for linguistic development.
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