Human cultures and languages are diverse. To some, these differences imply incommensurate ways of being human. To others, these differences only serve to underscore our profound sameness. Most cross-linguistic studies of categorization offer up their evidence on one side or the other of this philosophical divide. In this paper, we summarize recent results from our cross-linguistic studies of early noun learning by English-speaking and Japanese-speaking children. The findings are clearly relevant to issues of linguistic and conceptual diversity. However, these issues were not the proximal impetus for our studies. Instead, our questions were pitched at a different level, to a mechanistic understanding of the development of categories and early noun learning. Still, by pursuing mechanisms of developmental change, we arrive at a deeper understanding of the processes that create both universal and linguistically-specific ways of knowing.
Keywords: language, categories, cross-linguistic differences, children, ontology