312 Singaporean children aged 4, 7, and 10 years from four different home language backgrounds–English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil–were tested for their recognition of animals and non-animals. The Malay-speaking group of children was the notable group that showed a different developmental pattern from the other three groups. They performed significantly better on recognition of all animals and of non-archetypal animals, for both the English and the Malay test versions. Age-related patterns suggest a U-shaped performance curve, with 4-year-olds mostly scoring slightly higher than 7-year-olds, in line with the suggestion that archetypal definitions begin to emerge around 3-4 years of age. The notable exception was again the Malay-speaking children, who followed a simple linear improvement. Out of the four languages, Malay has the broadest archetypal definition of animal, which may help explain these effects, suggesting that home language exposure that has broader definitions may strengthen a child’s understanding when also learning in the context of a different instructional language. Overall, the study may have implications for understanding the role of language in the formation of scientific concepts as well as for instructional approaches by taking into consideration how everyday language may need to be taken into account when teaching about animals.
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