The Analysis of Verbal Behavior

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 143–160 | Cite as

Words Are Not Things

Article

Abstract

On a traditional view, words are the fundamental units of verbal behavior. They are independent, autonomous things that symbolically represent or refer to other independent, autonomous things, often in some other dimension. Ascertaining what those other things are constitutes determining the meaning of a word. On a behavior-analytic view, verbal behavior is ongoing, functional operant activity occasioned by antecedent factors and reinforced by its consequences, particularly consequences that are mediated by other members of the same verbal community. Functional relations rather than structure select the response unit. The behavior-analytic point of view clarifies such important contemporary issues in psychology as (a) the role of scientific theories and explanations, (b) educational practices, and (c) equivalence classes, so that there is no risk of strengthening the traditional view that words are things that symbolically represent other things.

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Copyright information

© Association of Behavior Analysis International 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA

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