This page is part of the ongoing
Project Categorization
Aristotelian category
Category boundaries
Levels of categorization
Basic level
Category-wide attribute
Collective function
Subordinate level
Superordinate level
Parasitic categorization
Prototype category
Bad member
Degree of membership
Flexible adaptability
Goodness of exemplar
Good member
Informational density
Radial structure
Structural stability
Class inclusion
Degree of generality
Expert taxonomy
Folk taxonomy
Multiple parenting
Scientific taxonomy

A superordinate level category is a category placed at the top of a folk taxonomy and thus displays a low degree of class inclusion and a high degree of generality. They include basic level categories.

i) Superordinate categories are less good than basic level categories because within-category resemblance is relatively low

ii) Superordinate categories have fewer defining attributes than basic level categories

iii) Immediate superordinates of basic level categories often have a single-attribute realtion to a higher superordinate category

iv) Linguistically, lexical superordinates are often mass nouns while basic level terms are count nouns

Category-wide attributesEdit

A superordinate level category provides only very few and very general defining category-wide attributes. For instance, the defining category-wide attribute of the superordinate level category FURNITURE is LARGE MOVABLE OBJECT THAT MAKES A ROOM SUITABLE FOR LIVING, while that of VEHICLE is USED IN ORDER TO TRANSPORT PEOPLE AND OBJECTS.

The category-wide attributes are essential to human cognition, as they highlight the most functionally salient features of basic level categories. For instance, one of the most essential defining features of a CAR is that it is used for the transporation of personnel and objects, which is inherited from the category-wide feature of VEHICLE. In that sense, category-wide attributes constitute the cognitively economic collecting function of enabling humans to collect large quantities of related information under one label.

Parasitic categorizationEdit

Superordinate categories do cover enough properties to provide a common gestalt. However, they may be assigned one through parasitic categorization. This implies that the gestalt of a basic level category is borrowed by the superordinate category.

Superordinate categories in languageEdit

In English and other languages the labels for superordinate categories are often, but far from always, mass nouns like FURNITURE.


  • Ungerer, Friedrich & Hans-Jörg Schmid (1996). An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics. London: Longman.
The bibliography of this article is insufficient. You can help us by adding more items.

This article is a stub. You can help us by by expanding it.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.