The development of noun definition

Marjorie Arnold, Richard De Lisi, Aileen Wehren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


This study investigated the development of noun definition by grade school children and adults (N = 100). Subjects were asked to define 15 common nouns in one of two conditions: with objects present or without objects present. Definitions were classified on the basis of perceptual attributes (Concrete), everyday usage (Functional) or a combination of these (Combinatorial). Results were analysed with a 5 (Grade) x 2 (Condition x 3 (Category) Analysis of Variance which indicated no effects for condition, but a Grade x Category interaction. With increasing age, there was a shift from Functional to Combinatorial Definitions; Concretedefinitions were infrequent for all grades. In addition, age changes were found in the forms of the definitions subjects produced. In contrast to the children, adults formulated definitions in a more complex Aristotelian form. It was concluded that noun definition is a metalinguistic ability which follows a course of development similar to that for the acquisition of word meaning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-175
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1981

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology(all)


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