The Analysis of Verbal Behavior

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 167–183 | Cite as

The Importance of Form in Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior and a Further Step

  • E. A. Vargas
Conceptual Article


A series of quotes from B. F. Skinner illustrates the importance of form in his analysis of verbal behavior. In that analysis, form plays an important part in contingency control. Form and function complement each other. Function, the array of variables that control a verbal utterance, dictates the meaning of a specified form; form, as stipulated by a verbal community, indicates that meaning. The mediational actions that shape verbal utterances do not necessarily encounter their controlling variables. These are inferred from the form of the verbal utterance. Form carries the burden of implied meaning and underscores the importance of the verbal community in the expression of all the forms of language. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior and the importance of form within that analysis provides the foundation by which to investigate language. But a further step needs to be undertaken to examine and to explain the abstractions of language as an outcome of action at an aggregate level.

Key words

verbal behavior form function mediation language 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allan, R. W. (1993). Control of pecking response topography by stimulus-reinforcer and response-reinforcer contingencies. In H. P. Ziegler, & H. Bischoff (Eds.), Vision, brain, and behavior in birds (pp. 285–300). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Allan, R. W. (1998). Operant-respondent interactions. In W. O’Donohue (Ed.), Learning and behavior therapy (pp. 146-168). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  3. Bower, B. (November 19, 2011). Languages, like genes, can tell evolutionary tales. Science News, 180, 22–25.Google Scholar
  4. Browne, J. (2006). Darwin’s origin of species: A biography. London: Atlantic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Burchfield, R. (2006). The English language. London: The Folio Society.Google Scholar
  6. Butterfield, H. (1953). The origins of modern science. New York, NY: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  7. Deutscher, G. (2005). The unfolding of language. New York, NY: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  8. Everett, D. L. (2008). Don’t sleep, There are snakes. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  9. Frank, R. H. (2011). The Darwin economy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Fuller, J. L. (1978). Genes, brains, and behavior. In M. S. Gregory, A. Silvers, & D. Sutch (Eds.), Sociobiology and human nature (pp. 98–115). San Francisco, CA: Jersey-Bass.Google Scholar
  11. Greer, R. D., & Speckman, J. (2009). The integration of speaker and listener responses: A theory of verbal development. The Psychological Record, 59, 449–488.Google Scholar
  12. Hodgson, G. M., & Knudsen, H. (2010). Darwin’s conjecture. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Juliá, P. (1982). Can linguistics contribute to the study of verbal behavior? The Behavior Analyst, 5, 9–19.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Kemmer, S. (2010). About cognitive linguistics. Historical background. International Cognitive Linguistics Association. Retrieved from www.cogling.orgGoogle Scholar
  15. Lamott, A. (1994). Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  16. Lane, H. (1976). The wild boy of Aveyron. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Ledoux, S. F. (2012). Behaviorism at 100. American Scientist, 100, 60–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Matos, M. A., & Passos, M. L. R. F. (2006). Linguistic sources of Skinner’s Verbal behavior. The Behavior Analyst, 29, 89–107.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Mayr, E. (1991). One long argument. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Newton, M. (2002). Savage girls and wild boys. New York, NY: Picador.Google Scholar
  21. Ornat, S. L., & Gallo, P. (2004). Acquisition, learning, or development of language? Skinner’s Verbal Behavior Revisited. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 7, 161–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ostler, N. (2010). Empires of the word. London: The Folio Society.Google Scholar
  23. Palmer, D. C. (2008). On Skinner’s definition of verbal behavior. International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy, 8, 295–307.Google Scholar
  24. Passos, M. L. R. F. (2007). Bloomfield and Skinner: speech-community, functions of language, and scientific activity. The Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis, 1(4)/2(2), 76–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Passos, M. L. R. F. (2012). B. F. Skinner: The writer and his definition of verbal behavior. The Behavior Analyst, 35, 115–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Petursdottir, A. I., Peterson, S. P., & Peters, A. C. (2009). A quarter century of the Analysis of Verbal Behavior: An analysis of impact. The Analysis of Verbal behavior, 25, 109–122.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Ptacek, M. B., & Hankison, S. J. (2009). The pattern and process of speciation. In M. Ruse, & Travis, J. (Eds.), Evolution The first four billion Years (pp. 177–207). Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  28. Schlinger, H. D. (2008). The long good-bye: Why B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior is alive and well on the 50th anniversary of its publication. The Psychological Record, 58, 329–337.Google Scholar
  29. Schoneberger, T. (2010). Three myths from the language acquisition literature. The Analysis of Verbal behavior, 26, 107–132.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  30. Skinner, B. F. (1938/1991). The behavior of organisms. Cambridge, MA: B. F. Skinner Foundation.Google Scholar
  31. Skinner, B. F. (1947/1999). Current trends in experimental psychology. In A. C. Catania & V. G. Laties, Eds. Cumulative record: Definitive edition (pp. 341–359). Cambridge, MA: B. F. Skinner Foundation.Google Scholar
  32. Skinner, B. F. (1957/2011). Verbal behavior. Cambridge, MA: B. F. Skinner Foundation.Google Scholar
  33. Skinner, B. F. (1969/2012). Contingencies of reinforcement: A theoretical analysis. Cambridge, MA: B. F. Skinner Foundation.Google Scholar
  34. Skinner, B. F. (1987). Selection by consequences. In Upon Further Reflection. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  35. Skinner. B. F. (1988). Skinner’s reply to Harnad. In A. C. Catania & S. Harnad (Eds.), The selection of behavior (pp. 468–473). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Sundberg, M. (2011, October). Skinner’s analysis of the verbal community. Retrieved from www.marksundberg.comGoogle Scholar
  37. Tu, J. C. (2006). The role of joint control in the manded selection responses of both vocal and non-vocal children with autism. The Analysis of Verbal behavior, 22, 191–207.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  38. Ulman, J. D. (2006). Macrocontingencies and institutions: A behaviorological analysis. Behavior and Social Issues, 15, 95–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ulman, J. D., & Vargas, E. A. (2005). Behaviorology. In M. Herson & J. Rosqvist (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Behavior Modification Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Vol. 1 (pp. 175–176). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  40. Vargas, E. A. (1986). Intraverbal behavior. In P. N. Chase & L. J. Parrott (Eds.), Psychological aspects of language (pp. 128–151). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.Google Scholar
  41. Vargas, E. A. (1987). In Response. “Separate Disciplines” is another name for survival. The Behavior Analyst, 10, 119–121.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  42. Vargas, E. A. (1988). Event-governed and verbally-governed behavior. The Analysis of Verbal behavior, 6, 11–22.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  43. Vargas, E. A. (1991). Behaviorology: Its paradigm. In W. Ishaq (Ed.), Human behavior in today’s world (pp. 139–147). New York, NY: Praeger.Google Scholar
  44. Vargas, E. A. (1992). Foreword II. In B. F. Skinner, Verbal behavior, (pp. xiii–xxv). Cambridge, MA: B. F. Skinner Foundation.Google Scholar
  45. Vargas, E. A. (1993, October). From behaviorism to selectionism. Educational Technology, 46–51.Google Scholar
  46. Vargas, E. A. (1996). Explanatory frameworks and the thema of agency. Behaviorology, 4, 30–42.Google Scholar
  47. Vargas, J. S. (2009). Behavior analysis for effective teaching. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Vargas, J. S. (2013). Behavior analysis for effective teaching (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Association of Behavior Analysis International 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.B. F. Skinner FoundationUSA

Personalised recommendations