Children's and Adults’ Understanding of Proper Namable Things
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In two studies, we explored 5-year-olds’ and adults’ beliefs about entities that receive reference by proper names. In Study 1 we used two tasks: (1) a listing task in which participants stated what things in the world can and cannot receive proper names, and (2) an explanation task in which they explained why some things merit proper names. Children’s lists of proper namable things were more centred than adults’ on living animate entities and their surrogates (e.g., dolls and stuffed animals). Both children’s and adults’ lists of non-namable things contained a predominance of artefacts. Both age groups offered similar explanations for proper namability, the most common of which pertained to the desire or need to identify objects as individuals (or to distinguish them from other objects). In Study 2 we replicated the main results of the Study 1 listing task, using a modified set of instructions. The findings establish a set of norms about the scope and coherence of children’s and adults’ concept of a proper namable entity, and they place constraints on an account of how children learn proper names (Macnamara, 1982, 1986).