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What is a prototype?



The prototype of any category is the member or set of members of a category that best represents the category as a whole.


Not everything fits perfectly in a category. Categories are defined by an intersection of properties that make up their members. Members that have all of the properties are the prototype members. Those that contain some, but not all, of the properties are less prototypical.


Prototypical nouns embody extremely and obviously time-stable concepts. ‘Rock’ and ‘tree’ are prototypical nouns.

Adapted from:

Payne, T. 1997a 7, 33–35


The English word ‘fist’ is classified as a noun because it behaves distributionally the same as prototypical nouns. However, the concept ‘fist’ does not fit the prototype of a noun, because a ‘fist’ does not characteristically persist over a long period of time. Some languages do not express this concept with a simple noun at all.

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Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

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