Paul K. Chase

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Witkowski, Stanley Raymond, 1941-

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Anthropology




This paper considers the manner in which English and Zapotec speaking children acquire general animal categories such as "fish," "bird," "snake," "wug," and "mammal." These general categories, called life-forms, are the most inclusive named categories regularly found in the folk zoological taxonomies of the world's languages. Data collected from 16 American English and 9 Isthmus Zapotec speaking children reveal regularities in the way these life-forms are learned and suggest a universal order in which life-form terms enter the vocabularies of children. American English speaking children acquire folk zoological life-forms in essentially the same order as do languages. In addition, American children tend to over-extend the range of meaning of certain life-forms to include creatures not regularly found in the adult categories. Finally, there seems to be a relative lack of salience of the "bird" life-form as shown by the fact that it is acquired by children after "fish" and "snake." Zapotec children, like American children, acquire folk zoological life-forms in the same order as do languages. They learn "fish" and "snake," the only two life-forms present in the adult system, quite early in the acquisition process. In addition, Zapotec children tend to over-extend the range of the adult residual categories "wug" and "mammal." There is also a relative lack of salience of these categories among younger Zapotec children. Fianlly, Zapotec children who learn Spanish as a second language tend to acquire the Spanish "bird" category quite late. This may be attributable to the fact that their first language, Zapotec, lacks a bird category. These findings are explained through reference to the framework of marking, worked out over the years by Jakobson (1941), Greenberg (1966, 1969, 1975) and others. Other principles that contribute to this explanation include criteria clustering, binary opposition, dimension salience, over-extension, and others.


Includes bibliographical references.


vii, 114 pages




Northern Illinois University

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