The Taxonomy of Verbal Behavior

  • A. Charles Catania
Part of the Applied Clinical Psychology book series (NSSB)


The vocabulary of behavior analysis was established in the context of research with nonverbal organisms (Skinner, 1938). That vocabulary is based on a taxonomy of function rather than one of structure. For example, it identifies operant classes by their environmental effects rather than by their topographies. No major additions were made to this vocabulary when it was applied to the general properties of human behavior (Skinner, 1953), but the extension to specific features of verbal behavior was accompanied by a substantial expansion of technical terms (Skinner, 1957). Some of those terms categorize verbal responses in terms of the basic processes that contribute to their emission; for example, the term tact captures the role of discriminative stimuli in the control of a verbal response. Others take topographical features into account; for example, echoic and textual behavior are distinguished by whether relevant stimuli are auditory or visual. The taxonomy of verbal behavior did not originate in the laboratory. Instead, it was based on observations of verbal behavior in natural environments:

The emphasis is upon an orderly arrangement of well-known facts, in accordance with a formulation of behavior derived from an experimental analysis of a more rigorous sort. The present extension to verbal behavior is thus an exercise in interpretation rather than a quantitative extrapolation of rigorous experimental results. (Skinner, 1957, p. 11)

Nonetheless, the taxonomy of verbal behavior identifies units into which complex verbal behavior can be decomposed in an experimental analysis, and the continuing expansion of experimental analysis of verbal behavior is likely to add to that taxonomy.


Verbal Behavior Discriminative Stimulus Verbal Response Verbal Community Verbal Stimulus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Charles Catania
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Maryland Baltimore CountyBaltimoreUSA

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