Ellen Markman is Lewis M. Terman Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She specializes in word learning and language development in children, focusing specifically on how children come to associate words with their meanings. Markman contends that in order to learn the meaning of a word, children make use of three basic principles: the whole object assumption (words refer to an object rather than to its parts or features), the taxonomic assumption (labels should be extended to an object of the same kind rather than an object that is thematically related), and the mutual exclusivity assumption (another label can be used to refer to a feature or part of an object). Related topics that Markman has studied include categorization and inductive reasoning in children and infants. Markman subscribes to the innatist school of developmental psychologists, which asserts that children possess innate knowledge that they draw upon in the process of language acquisition.
Markman received a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974, where she studied under the mentorship of Lila Gleitman. She has been employed as a tenure-track faculty member in the Department of Psychology since 1975, for which she served as Chair 1994-1997. Additionally, Markman served as Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences from 1998-2000, and she also serves as Stanford's faculty representative to the NCAA and the Pacific-10 Conference.