Superordinate and Basic Category Names in Discourse: A Textual Analysis

Edward J. Wisniewski, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Recent work on the categorization of objects in scenes and on the acquisition of children's concepts suggests that superordinate concepts represent groups of concept members and the relations among them. In contrast, basic concepts typically represent the characteristics of single objects (e.g., chairs have four legs, a back, and are for sitting on). If language use mirrors conceptual structure, one would expect to find differences in the use of basic and superordinate category names in discourse. In particular, people may use superordinate terms more often to refer to multiple objects rather than individual objects. Basic category terms may be used more often to refer to individual objects. The analysis presented here addressed this hypothesis by examining a large sample of references to superordinates and their basic categories. The proportion of references to single versus multiple objects was calculated for superordinates and their basic categories. Results showed that superordinates were more often used to refer to groups and classes of objects. In contrast, basic category terms were most often used to refer to single objects. The results suggest qualitative differences in the use of basic and superordinate categories in discourse and in the representation of their corresponding concepts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-261
Number of pages17
JournalDiscourse Processes
Volume12
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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