25 June 2008

Exemplars, Prototypes, and Tongue-Twisters

Wednesday. Nothing much in particular happening today. Aside from the fact that today is lab meeting day, nothing much.

So there, I went to lab, discussed a bunch of papers about exemplars, prototypes, metal representations of language, among other things. There were some French dark chocolate made with Brazilian cacao beans, and I made some mini origami with the paper wrappers, such as the rowboat and the Thai royal barge.

So let me ask you this, do you believe in the prototype theory or the exemplar theory of categorization?

The prototype theory is basically this: if you encounter an object, you then compare how close or how far it is from a prototype, and the closer it is, the more related it is to the prototype, and the farther it is, the less related. For example, if you see a rather exotic looking animal, with wings, it flies somewhat, has feathers, then would you categorize it as a bird? A robin is usually the prototypical bird in the Western world, not a penguin. Basically, prototype theory computes a certain object against the average of the previously-encountered objects, namely, a prototype.

The exemplar theory on the other hand is this: if you encounter an object, you then compare how similar it is to the whole inventory of things that you have encountered so far. Therefore, the main difference with this theory compared to the prototype theory is that there is no averaging of elements; every member of your set is still salient and is a point in comparison. There is no "prototype", but rather, previously encountered exemplars, to which the new input is compared against.

There are psychological studies that argue for both. Take your pick.

So there, if you get tired of pondering how you categorize things in your head, then perhaps you should try these tongue twisters. And no, they are not in English, but in Hungarian. They can be rather funny.

  • Nem minden szarka farka tarka, csak a tarka fajta szarka farka tarka. - Not every pie bird has a colorful tail, only the colorful type of pie bird has a colorful tail.

  • Öt török öt görögöt dögönyöz örökös örömök között. - Five Turks are massaging five Greeks, causing eternal pleasures.

  • Ádám bátyám pávát látván száját tátván pávává vált. - Seeing a peacock, with his mouth falling open, my brother Adam turned into a peacock.

  • Te tetted e tettetett tettet? Tettetett tettek tettese, te! - Did you do this pretentious deed? Doer of pretentious deeds, you!

(Paradise, from my Watkins Glen Series)

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