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How did Skinner view language?

-learned verbal behavior
-acquired through operant conditioning
-influenced by environment

operant conditioning + example

-behavioral training as a result of reinforcement and punishment
-ex: provide stimulus/modeling (word), baby repeats; parent reinforces with "good jobs"

what does modeling do for child?

establish child's repertoire of sounds

operant + example

-any BEHAVIOR whose frequency can be affected by the responses that follow it
-Ex: boyfriend bringing rose is operant; affected by girlfriend's pleased reaction)


-behavior that displays goodness/badness of behavior that DETERMINES FREQUENCY OF BEHAVIOR
-Ex: girl pleased by rose

punishment + example

-behavior that leads to decrease in frequency
-Ex: girl didn't want rose


Speech sounds that are ignored or negatively reinforced are produced less frequently and eventually disappear

example of operant conditioning in child language acquisition

1) Mom provides operant: stimulus "say cat" (stimulus usually reinforced with object)
2) baby imitates; those resembling "cat" receive selective reinforcement
3) incorrect utterances won't be enforced, leading to extinction

discriminative stimulus + example

-a reinforcing stimulus in the presence of the word (referent)
-Ex: keys (stimulus) + sound of keys jingle; alliteration of d and m in mama, dada)

What does Skinner's Theory suggest?

Repetition is necessary

There are how many Verbal Behaviors that fulfill language functions?


echoic + example

-imitation of a word in the presence of a nonverbal stimulus to which the word refers
-Ex: say dog when you see dog)

mand + example

-used to request, command, or make a demand, and it identifies its own reinforcer
-Ex: me want drink (drink is the reinforcer)

intraverbal + example

-small talk; no direct connection to the utterance that precipitated it
Ex: Mom: you want cookie? kid: shoe!

tact + example

-response to nonverbal stimulus
-name or label something
Ex: mom: what's that? kid: ball

autoclitic + example

-responses that are influenced by, or influence, the behavior of the speaker
-Mom: you want water?
Child: water! (and takes it)

How are more complex responses are learned?

successive approximation of model of standard behaviors

how are longer sentences learned?

through imitation and chaining

how does grammar develop?

through the learning of chains of structured phrases and sentence frames

how do kids fill syntactic and semantic slots in phrases and sentences?

by substituting words or phrases that fulfill the same requirements

Limitations of Behavior Theory

-S + R=oversimplification of language learning
-doesn't take into account biological aspects
-imitation is not frequent with some children
-only small amount of speech reinforced by parents
-adult to adult speech is not adequate model
-generative aspect not explained


-made us look at important of environment, parents, imitation
-great contribution for intervention strategies
-influenced sociolinguistic theories

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