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What is a prototype?

 

Definition
 

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

Discussion
 

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.

Example
 

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

Adapted from:
 

Payne, T. 1997a 7, 33–35

Nonexamples
 

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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