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How an unfamiliar thing should be called

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An empirical method is described to derive good names for unfamiliar objects. It is based on three principles: (1) The names should be within users' linguistic capacities; (2) names should be informationally efficient; (3) names should form a classification system. The principles lead to a three-step method: (1) Subjects generate names for the objects; (2) a subset of the names, which fulfills the principles, is selected; (3) how good the names are is tested by matching and recall tasks. Steps 2 and 3 are iterated to improve the nnames. The names that result are natural, short, easily matched with their physical referents, and well recalled. The method is generalizable and ought to be useful in a large variety of situations where names for unfamiliar objects are needed.

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Author information

Correspondence to Patricia Baggett.

Additional information

This research was supported by the Office of Naval Research Contract No. N00014-78-C-0433 to the first author. This report is No. 111 of the Institute of Cognitive Science's Technical Report Series.

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Baggett, P., Ehrenfeucht, A. How an unfamiliar thing should be called. J Psycholinguist Res 11, 437–445 (1982). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01067492

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  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Classification System
  • Empirical Method
  • Recall Task
  • Unfamiliar Object