Title

Much ado about nothing? Some comments on B. F. Skinner’s definition of verbal behavior

Document Type

Article

Publication Title

Behavior Analyst

Department

Psychology

ISSN

0738-6729

Volume

32

Issue

1

DOI

10.1007/BF03392182

First Page

185

Last Page

190

Publication Date

4-1-2009

Abstract

Some have suggested that the definition of verbal behavior offered by B. F. Skinner (1957) fails to capture the essence of language insofar as it is too broad and not functional. In this paper, I argue that the ambiguities of Skinner’s definition are not an indictment of it, and that suggestions to the contrary are problematic because they suffer a critical error of scientific reasoning. Specifically, I argue that (a) no clear definition of verbal behavior is possible because there is no natural distinction between verbal and nonverbal behavior; (b) attempts at an immutable definition are essentialistic; and (c) Skinner’s functional taxonomy of language is in no way affected by the particulars of any definition of verbal behavior.