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  • By: Susan A. Gelman & Meredith A. Meyer
  • In: Encyclopedia of Language Development
  • Edited by: Patricia J. Brooks & Vera Kempe
  • Subject:Language Development, Language & Communication

Generics are noun phrases that refer to categories (Birds fly; a bird is warm-blooded). They can be distinguished from noun phrases that refer to specific instances, whether definite or indefinite (Those birds are flying; I saw a bird) and also from quantified expressions (All birds have hollow bones; most birds build nests; some birds are colorful). Generics pose a challenging inductive puzzle to learners: They are conceptually abstract, semantically complex, and not uniquely marked in language form. Nonetheless, generics are frequent in the input language that children hear and are produced and understood relatively early in development (typically by 3 years of age). Generics have implications for conceptual development: In the language that children hear, generics transmit category-relevant information to children; in the language that ...

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