Overview of Behaviorism in Linguistics and Skinner's Behavioral Theory
Behaviorism is “the dominant view in psychology in the first half of the 20th century that behavior was entirely learned, by means of “conditioning” on the basis of responses to stimuli. This included “verbal behavior”, i.e. language. It was considered idle to speculate on the mind, and in general thought was considered to be dependent on language. The most famous exponent of this view was Burrhus Fredric Skinner (1904 – 1990), whose book Verbal Behavior (1957) was subjected to a trenchant critique by Noam Chomsky in a review published in the linguistics journal Language (1959).” (7; 94)
“Mainstream American linguistics of the 1940’s and 50’s was committed to the behaviorist line established by Leonard Bloomfield.” (8; 168) To get the better insight of behaviorism in linguistics, let us follow the meaning of such notions as stimuli, words and responses.
For example, Jill is hungry, sees an apple (S), and asks Jack to get it for her (r); this linguistic stimulus (s) leads to Jack getting the apple (R). L. Bloomfield argues that you can tell what the meaning of r...s must be just be observing the events that accompanied it. However, in very many situations it is difficult to demonstrate what the relevant features of the stimulus/ response are – a real problem when events are not clearly visible in physical terms. And it proves even more difficult to handle cases where people do not act in the ”predicted” way (if Jack did not fetch the apple, perhaps because of a quarrel with Jill at Monte Carlo two years before). …
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