Although the verbal operants that comprise Skinner’s account of verbal behavior provide a seemingly complete description of the behavior of the speaker with respect to what is ordinarily called the expression of meanings, it may be shown that the account is intrinsically deficient in describing the receptive behavior of listeners with regard to their comprehension of the meanings of novel words, sentences and propositions. In response to this perceived deficiency, the notion of joint control is presented here. Joint control occurs when a verbal-operant topography, currently evoked by one stimulus, is additionally (i.e., jointly) evoked by a second stimulus. This event of joint stimulus control then sets the occasion for a response. This simple mechanism is shown here to have exceedingly broad explanatory properties: providing a coherent and rigorously behavioral account of various aspects of language ranging from meaning, reference and comprehension, to the development of abstraction in children’s speech.
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