[top of page 8 of handout]

Skinner, B.F. (1957) Verbal Behavior.

p.119. “The most familiar examples of functional units are traditionally called words.”

.....there eventually emerges a basic repertoire of smaller functional units also at the level of the word” — Child learns ‘I have a doll’ and ‘I have a kitten’ and later says “for the first time, and without separate conditioning, I have a drum

 

 

p.120-1 “Other familiar units below the level of the word are the affixes used for inflectional, syntactical, or other purposes...These have their own histories....”

 

The evidence is clearest when a speaker composes new forms of response with respect to new situations. Having developed a functional suffix -ed with respect to the subtle property of stimuli which we speak of as action-in-the-past, the suffix may be added for the first time to a word which has hitherto described action only in the present. The process is conspicuous..” (when children make incorrect regularizations). “He singed is obviously composed from separate elements, because the community reinforces the form He sang ......”

(Skinner, 1957; p. 120-1)  

 

One kind of minimal unit is under control of the subtle properties of stimuli which distinguish with different ‘parts of speech’ — for example, the speaker may compose adverbs by adding -ly to adjectives. Suffixes such as -ness or - hood are usually readily manipulable as separate elements in composing new terms appropriate to “states of being.”

 

Innateness

p.462 “Occasionally, through accidental circumstances, two or more children have grown up in partial isolation from established verbal communities and have developed fairly extensive idiosyncratic verbal systems, but the isolation has never been complete enough to prove that a verbal environment will arise spontaneously in the absence of prior verbal behaviour.”