B. F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior: Misunderstandings and misconceptions

Document Type

Conference Presentation



Conference Title

Annual Meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis


Association for Behavior Analysis


San Antonio, TX

Conference Dates

May 22-26, 2015

Date of Presentation



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 tutorial, Dr. Matthew Normand will explain how the ambiguities of Skinner's definition are not an indictment of it, and show that suggestions to the contrary are problematic because they suffer a critical error of scientific reasoning. Specifically, he will explain 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. Moreover, Dr. Normand will explain how categorical definitions, and the vagaries that sometimes arise from them, are not unique to Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior.

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