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Paperback | $34.00 Short | £23.95 | ISBN: 9780262630924 | 296 pp. | February 1984

Names for Things

A Study in Human Learning


Four chapters in the book's first section, Matters Mainly Psychological, describe empirical observations that explore how a child copes with the fact that many different name-like words can be applied to a single object.

A second major section, Matters Mainly Linguistic, contains chapters on phonology, the learning of grammatical categories, the definite and indefinite articles, and the plural. A third section, Matters Mainly Philosophical, focuses entirely on the complex issues of reference and meaning. A final chapter reflects on the implications of the book for developmental psychology.

A Bradford Book.

About the Author

John Macnamara is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, McGill University.


"In a fascinating and controversial book, Macnamara explores a complex question—how children learn which words go into which grammatical categories, how they learn to name 'things you could bump into.' The author, a professor of psychology at McGill University, travels through psychological, linguistic, and philosophical domains, weaving empirical research with intelligent speculation. Along the way he criticizes the views of those who, like Piaget and Inhelder, assume that the child's mind is very different from the adult's, and that children cannot form 'true concepts' until at least the age of 7 because they haven't the logical mechanisms required.... Names for Things is a hard but rewarding book."—Psychology Today
"The strength of the book is its rich mix of many angles and pieces of evidence on these issues, and in its bold claims on how much the child brings cognitively to language acquisition."—American Scientist


"I know of no other work that so simply spells out all the central issues. The book is concerned with the child's acquisition of names (by which is meant words that refer to objects - including proper names, common nouns in some uses, and pronouns in some uses). Macnamara shows that a theory of acquisition must specify what the child brings to the task, and then how he uses what is innately given. Macnamara then proceeds to lay out the problem in all its complexity, while also carving out chunks of it on which empirical progress can be made. The result is delightful, informative, and precedent-setting."
Susan Carey, MIT
"Macnamara promises us that a careful treatment of how children learn to use nouns will raise some of the deepest questions to be found in cognitive psychology, linguistics, and philosophy of mind, and will contribute to answers to these questions as well. In his new book, Names for Things, Macnamara keeps that promise."
Steven Pinker, Stanford University