The Speaker as Listener: The Interpretation of Structural Regularities in Verbal Behavior
Regularities in word order not specifically addressed by Skinner require behavioral interpretation if our field is to become more influential among students of language. Three such phenomena are briefly described in traditional structural terms and are offered as test cases: subtle differences in dative verbs, transformational traces, and the formation of compound nouns. It is argued that the variables that control such regularities derive from the speaker’s repertoire as listener. Intraverbal frames are established as verbal responses in the listener through reinforcement by parity. Transitions from element to element in such frames are controlled, moment to moment in time, partly by the speaker’s responses as a listener to his or her own verbal behavior. Although this account offers only a tentative interpretation of grammar and syntax in a limited domain, it suggests that the conceptual tools of behavior analysis are adequate to the task of explaining even the most subtle of grammatical rules.
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