2016, Volume 13, Issue 2

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Katalin Reszegi
University of Debrecen
Debrecen, Hungary

The Acquisition of Place Names in Mother Tongue Learning: Some Observations on Children’s Spatial Cognition

Voprosy onomastiki, 2016, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp. 7–22 (in English)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2016.13.2.015

Received 11 January 2016

Abstract: The paper reviews and complements existing knowledge about the acquisition of proper names. On the basis of research into children’s language, it seems obvious today that the process of acquisition of proper names (anthroponyms) is simultaneous to the acquisition of common nouns. However, the underlying mechanisms explaining the separation of the two groups of nouns are controversial. Compared to the case of anthroponyms, learning toponyms is a more complicated and a longer-lasting process. In connection with this topic, researchers dealing with spatial cognition are focusing on spatial orientation, on the localisation of spatial information in the brain and on spatial language. They study neither the way children get to know the wider geographical environment, nor the way they acquire toponyms. The author seeks to obtain more information about the beginning of this process based on the study of two small children’s toponymic knowledge in connection with their acquisition of geographical common nouns and the development of spatial orientation. This makes it possible to draw preliminary conclusions about the specificity of the cognitive mechanisms ensuring the knowledge of geographical environment. The author suggests that the meaning of early toponyms is typically undergeneralised — children tend to interpret the names of cities/towns or streets by restricting them to a certain house. It has also been made evident that, at the age of 2–4 years, the relationship between places and persons is very tight (for instance, children connect the names of places to specific persons). The semantic contingencies can be explained by the fact that, in the case of children, the place concepts themselves (what is a city/town?, what is a street?, etc.) have not been fully constructed yet, and that the elements of space are still not distinct entities.

Key words: Hungarian language, language acquisition, acquisition of proper names, place names, toponyms, spatial cognition, cognitive map, toponymic knowledge


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