Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


41st Annual Convention; San Antonio, TX; 2015

Event Details

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Symposium #355
Trends in Linguistics and Some Behavior-Analytic Answers
Monday, May 25, 2015
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
216AB (CC)
Area: VRB/TPC; Domain: Theory
Chair: Robert Dlouhy (Western Michigan University)
Discussant: Ted Schoneberger (Kohala Educational Services, Waikoloa, Hawaii)
Abstract: The two papers in this symposium will discuss trends in linguistics and how analyses of verbal behavior can inform some of the issues these trends present. The first paper will describe how, over the last twenty years, some linguists have moved away from formal descriptions of language based on innate universals that Noam Chomsky attempted to develop. Instead of inferring rules, linguists are now studying how utterances of various types are dependent on the context in which they occur. It will be argued here that this trend is making the explanations and goals of these linguists more compatible with those of behavior analysts. The second paper presents an example of how the principles of verbal behavior can be used to explain the complex syntactic phenomenon called recursion. Recursion is an autoclitic of order (i.e., a phrase or clause) of a particular type that contains an autoclitic of order of the same type. Skinner’s principles can easily account for recursiveness, as a number of examples from several languages will show. Since verbal behavior of this sort is operant behavior, it must be under control of environmental variables, the analysis of which can be similar to those of linguists who are seeking alternatives to the formal analyses of Chomsky.
Keyword(s): Linguistics, Ordering Autoclitics, Recursion

Natural Languages After Chomsky

JOHN H. MABRY (Retired)

Following Peters (1983) and others observations of childrens emerging speech patterns, prefabricated constructions have supplanted the words and morphemes approach of the Chomsky-era, and earlier views. This effort, as addressed by Tomasello (2003), emphasizes a usage-based view which is dependent on the effect of adult audience (as communicative intention) on the childs emerging speech, and is clearly distinct from paradigmatic analyses (relying on verb-noun distinctions, etc.) of formal grammatical and syntactic analysis. Current and recent views in this field have also advanced the notion of discriminative functions as cues, replacing the 'rules' of grammar and syntax. While requiring frequent translation from their child centered focus, the major empirical findings are easily related to the radical behavioral view of Skinners Verbal Behavior. Another relevant post-Chomsky literature has reemphasized language diversity among the thousands of literate and preliterate speech communities. The idiomatic nature of speech (and gestures) has been the subject of several books by linguists such as McWhorter (2014) and Deutscher (2010) which discard the rule-governed and formal systems of fifty years ago. These more current views seem to share many points with the functional analysis proposed by Skinner in 1957 and later works.

Recursion in Autoclitics of Order
ROBERT DLOUHY (Western Michigan University)
Abstract: Autoclitics of order, briefly described by Skinner in Chapter 13 of Verbal Behavior, are operants that sequence verbal responses. The order of the constituent responses is itself a discriminative stimulus for relations between them. Although Skinner did not expound on autoclitics of order, it can be shown that these operants can account for the classes of phrases in the verbal repertoires of a verbal community. A particular autoclitic of order is an operant that accounts for a particular type of phrase in a language. The responses that are ordered are not necessarily simple words, they may be products of other sequencing operants. Because of this, phrases often contain other phrases. Sometimes phrases contain phrases of the same type, a situation known as recursion. Using examples from several languages, this paper will demonstrate that the autoclitic of order can easily account for the complexity of phrases, including recursion. Significantly, this analysis can account for intraverbal dependencies which Chomsky claimed behavioral theory could not explain.



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