Rosch, Eleanor

Rosch, Eleanor, 1938–, American psychologist, Ph.D. Harvard, 1969. In a series of experiments in the 1970s, Rosch demonstrated that when people label an everday object or experience, they rely less on abstract definitions than on a comparison with what they regard as the best representative of the category designated by that word. Rosch also showed that the Dani tribe of New Guinea, although their language lacks words for colors except black and white, still distinguish among other colors. This finding contradicted the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (see Sapir, Edward), which holds that language determines thought to the extent that people cannot understand a concept for which their language has no word. Rosch extended her conclusions to universal statements about language, claiming that people in different cultures tend to categorize objects in similar ways. She argued that basic objects have a psychological import that transcends cultural differences and shapes people's mental representations of them.

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