Why are dunkels sticky? Preschoolers infer functionality and intentional creation for artifact properties learned from generic language

Andrei Cimpian, Cristina Cadena

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Artifacts pose a potential learning problem for children because the mapping between their features and their functions is often not transparent. In solving this problem, children are likely to rely on a number of information sources (e.g., others' actions, affordances). We argue that children's sensitivity to nuances in the language used to describe artifacts is an important, but so far unacknowledged, piece of this puzzle. Specifically, we hypothesize that children are sensitive to whether an unfamiliar artifact's features are highlighted using generic (e.g., "Dunkels are sticky" ) or non-generic (e.g., "This dunkel is sticky" ) language. Across two studies, older-but not younger-preschoolers who heard such features introduced via generic statements inferred that they are a functional part of the artifact's design more often than children who heard the same features introduced via non-generic statements. The ability to pick up on this linguistic cue may expand considerably the amount of conceptual information about artifacts that children derive from conversations with adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-68
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010



  • Artifacts
  • Children
  • Essentialism
  • Functions
  • Generic language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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