Behavioral Analysis of Language

Skinner also performed a behavior analysis of language (Verbal Behavior, 1957). For example, a behavioral analysis of the word "want," "believe," or "love," an operational definition in Skinner's sense, would be all those circumstances and situations which control the use of the word, that is, the discriminative stimuli for the verbal response. Skinner tried to show in Verbal Behavior that speaking and writing could be explained with the same principle he had used to explain animal behavior. Many of Skinner's works, and much of his private notebooks, are taken up with the recording of how words are used. His purpose was to de-mentalize them, to show that what controls their use is some aspect of the environment or some behavioral practice on the part of the verbal community, rather than some internal or mental event. The earliest uses of the word "to know," for example, referred to action, something the individual could do, rather than something he or she possessed or had stored inside the mind.

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