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2, 161-180 O






Uma anlise funcional da linguagem deve levar em considerao a diferena entre as interaes entre indivduos
e os produtos ou vestgios dessa interao. Embora as caractersticas morfolgicas da linguagem como comportamento
convencional sejam importantes, elas no so suficientes para distinguir o comportamento lingstico do
comportamento no lingstico. Analisamos vrios aspectos envolvidos na anlise funcional da linguagem como
comportamento: a) a aquisio de sistemas de reao convencionais; b) o despreendimento funcional de respostas;
c) o comportamento lingstico como interaes contingenciais substitutivas; d) a identificao de estgios funcionais
no desenvolvimento do comportamento convencional como comportamento lingstico; e e) a anlise da linguagem
como processo interativo.
Palavras-chave: linguagem, comportamento convencional, despreendimento funcional, contingncia
substitutiva, interaes didicas

A functional analysis of language must take into account the difference between interactions among individuals
and the products or vestiges of these interactions. Although morphological features of language as conventional
behavior are important, they are not sufficient to distinguish between linguistic and non-linguistic behavior. This
paper examines several aspects involved in the functional analysis of language as behaviour: a) the acquisition of
conventional reactional systems, b) the functional detachment of responses, c) linguistic behavior as substitutional
contingency interactions, d) the identification of functional stages in the development of conventional behaviour
as language behavior, and, e) the analysis of language as an interactive process.
Key words: language, conventional behavior, functional detachment, substitutional contingency, dyadic

And to imagine a language means from morphological or structural analysis of

to imagine a form of life behavior products, e.g., written materials, text
L. Wittgenstein composition, phonetic patterns in taped
Philosophical Investigations (1953, p. 80) speech, etc.; b) to spell-out the functional
properties of interactions which are to be
In a functional analysis of language as identified as qualitatively different from those
behavior two aspects must be taken into not considered as linguistic, if the distinction
account: a) not to confound problems of between language and non-language behaviors
individuals interacting while speaking, writing, is to have any value at all. We will refer to
reading or gesturing, with those that derive language or linguistic behavior (Kantor, 1977)

1 The research reported in this paper was partially funded by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia and the Instituto Mexicano de Psiquiatria.
Correspondence with author e-mail Emilio Ribes-Iesta <> and Carmen Quintana <>.


instead of the usual reference to verbal behavior, stimulus and response events as compared to
since the term verbal applies only to locutions those deploying physicochemical dimensions
and not to the different behavior modalities only (Ribes, 2006).
encompassed by language. Although language as behavior shares
Several problems arise in this context, many of the morphological features of language
some of them conceptual, and, some others products as things (Kantor, 1936), it deserves
methodological in nature. Two are outstanding a special treatment to the extent that it consists
among the conceptual issues: (i) the definition of an episodic relation involving always variables
of language as behavior in terms accurate enough additional to the utterance or writing by a
to distinguish it from behavioral processes shared speaker or writer. Language as behavior
with pre-linguistic events; and (ii) the need to represents a particular class of interaction,
conceive language behavior as a developmental which is possible because of its conventional
process embracing transitions in the qualitative morphology, but that is not restricted to the
complexity of interactions among the indivi- morphological features of the actions
dual and its environment (Ribes, 1996). themselves. We shall examine the concepts
Among the methodological issues, the necessary to provide an adequate definition of
following seem to be the most relevant: (i) the language as behavior: a) conventional reactions
development of functional categories that allow systems; b) functional detachment of responses;
for the identification of interactive units which and, c) substitutional contingencies.
include both linguistic and non-linguistic
response morphologies (Ribes & Quintana, LANGUAGE AND CONVENTIONAL REACTIONAL
2002); and (ii) the comparability of data SYSTEMS
obtained under experimentally contrived, lon-
gitudinal and comparative methods Human language is social in nature. Its
Three are the basic assumptions which social character does not mean only that
provide the rationale for our approach to language appears in individuals living in group,
language behavior: but that the morphological and functional
a) Morphology or topography is not features of language do not depend upon
sufficient to distinguish among language biological individual or species-specific
behavior and simpler behavior; conditions. On the contrary, human language
b) Present categories in behavior theory, as qualitatively different from animal para-
based upon the operant-respondent distinction, languages has evolutioned as a conventional
are inadequate in order to formulate a taxonomy system of relations among individual and the
of behavior including language behavior 2 environment events (Ribes, 2001). The
(Ribes, 1999); and, conventional character of human language is
c) The explanation of language behavior reflected both in its morphology and
must take into account the functional functionality; the conventional character of
specificity of conventional properties of human language although implying regularities

2. We have previously examined the limitations of conditioning paradigm as developed in Skinners Verbal Behavior (1957): Ribes (1982), Ribes (1985), Ribes
(1999) and Ribes and L6pez (1985).


among individuals does not necessarily require place or is rehearsed and then it is done or
explicit rules or norms regulating uniformities uttered. To know and to say, even when there
in the conventional action of individuals. are non-apparent or silent actions involved, is
Conventions represent social agreement, but a single process or occurrence. To speak or to
nonetheless, the establishment of social know about ones actions is an occurrence, and
agreements does not follow from although descriptive of self-deeds, it is a
supraordinated explicitly formulated rules separate action on itself. In this regard, to know
framing them. The formulation of these rules or to speak in advance about what it is going
or norms is a step further in the evolution of to be done or said is a consequence of previous
conventions, but it is not its initial and-or actions or doing and not the proof of these
necessary condition to develop. Conventions being caused or ruled by separate knowing or
grow out as tacit practices among individuals, internal speaking episodes (Ribes, 2000).
and rules describing (but never regulating as This becomes especially relevant in the
autonomous entities) these practices are analysis of language as behavior. Since mankind
sometimes formally expressed by society as laws developed writing, linguistic practices could be
or norms. Nevertheless, as the history of transcribed and perpetuated from generation to
grammar, law, religion and morals shows, rules generation. These transcriptions are not identical
are changed from time to time to adjust them to actual linguistic interactions. Transcriptions
to practices of individuals in society. are linguistic products as things but not actions
We want to stress that conventional themselves. Thus, the various grammars developed
behavior and actions do not imply any rule- as the description of transcribed and written
following process, since this is one of the basic practices, and rules were abstracted as ideal,
assumptions of dualistic thinking: the universal invariance of these, most of the time,
postulation of existing ideal entities, in the heterogeneous, constant changing individual and
form of rules, laws or similar stuff, inferred social practices. Since grammar represents a for-
from invariance in conventional practices. Not mal description of speaking and writing practices,
only the existence of these ideal devices is it cannot be postulated as a property of the same
claimed, but also that conventions as events, behavior of speaking and writing, and even less
that is, as interactions among individual and in those cases in which language involves gestural
the environment, are regulated or determined and arbitrary movements which are not verbal.
by such rules. Although this argument When individuals speaks, writes or engage in
underlies discussions in most fields of human some other kind of language as interactive
endeavor, it has been naturalized as a episode, they are not following rules of grammar,
psychological doctrine under the influence of even when their behavior may adjust to what
Cartesian dogma. Ryle (1949) has grammarians would describe as correct language
convincingly argued against the two-world or use. Most people cannot identify the rules of
sceneries conception of the ghost-in-the- grammar that describe their own behavior when
machine dogma. To know or to say something speaking or writing, and even in individuals able
does not mean a two-stage process in which to do so, they do not identify first the rules to
first what is known or is going to be said takes be followed and then speak or write. To do this


or to edit speech or writing at the same time we individually interact with them in terms of
that the language action is impossible. social practices or conventions (Wittgenstein, 1953).
Conventional behavior, therefore, does not Language, either as gestures, speech or
entail any prior social or individual process of writing, originated as conventions, or has been
rule-following. It consists in socially functional the medium of production, reproduction and
interactions with arbitrary morphologies in transformation of conventions. If man and
regard to the physicochemical and biological woman are to be identified, in an Aristotelian
dimensions of events and responses. To the sense, as intelligent beings, this is due, as Ryle
extent that these interactions are shared by (1943) keenly describes, to didactic speech,
individuals in a group they remain that is, to the capacity to transform into social
conventional. The conventional character of the individual experience, and vice versa. This
language actions is not restricted to its is possible only because of language as
morphology but is synonymous of its conventional behavior.
functionality. Language behavior is Human individuals, from the very
conventional to the extent that it is functionally moment they are born become part of a field
shared by individuals in a group interacting of interactions functionally mediated and
among them and with events in the contextualized by linguistic events. Objects,
environment. Because of this, we may find as actions and relations in the environment are
many sets of conventions as functional uses of not only contacted always trough the
arbitrary morphologies are practiced (this interaction with people, but their functional
argument is close to L. Wittgenstein (1953) properties as meaningful social events
conception of language as a game). The depends upon conventions made possible by
important feature of language as conventional linguistic exchange and transmission. Because
behavior is that it is difficult to identify a single of this, we may propose that human
human interaction in which a linguistic environment is a linguistic environment, even
component is not present as an essential when dealing with objects and things that
functional dimension of the situation, and it are not linguistic in morphology.
would be proper to add that we refer to Along the same reasoning, linguistic
linguistic components that are not necessarily behavior as conventional interaction includes
equated with utterances or graphisms, but with not only actions with a verbal morphology, but
socially transmitted conventional properties of also any action being part of interactions
events, actions and relations. Human environment mediated by linguistic events. Because of this,
as the outcome of social history is mainly a cultu- we consider that distinguishing verbal from
ral environment, that is, it is formed by objects non-verbal behavior, as based on morphological
and practices built up during the evolution of grounds, is not a sound distinction. Behavior
mankind, and because of this, even things and has to be viewed as part of interactional
nature are in a sense humanized. Nature and episodes, and in this context although episodes
things are not simply there. They have been created always involve linguistic components on the
or transformed by mankind in the course of part of some of the participating individuals,
history and become meaningful to the extent that only under special circumstances the action of


the speaker, gesturer or writer may be considered (i) the acquisition of listening responses, which
as truly linguistic. include integrated sensory or perceptual
Linguistic dimension of behavior includes reactions to linguistic stimuli and events; (ii) the
verbal as well as non-verbal morphologies. The acquisition of response units adjusted to linguistic
behavior of the speaker, gesturer or writer morphology; and (iii) the acquisition of response
becomes linguistic in a functional sense, only styles or modes matching interactive patterning
when allows for particular kinds of mediation in the linguistic environment. Although the
among the individuals and events interacting analysis of the acquisition of conventional
in a given situation. We shall define as responding may be undertaken through the
linguistic, not the isolated actions of an indi- identification of cumulative expansion of the
vidual, but the particular forms of morphology and extension of response units
organization of interactive episodes between availability, this endeavor becomes meaningless
the individual, other individuals and objects unless it is related to the functional circumstances
and events in the environment. and relations under which responses are acquired
We may summarize our position as follows: and performed. The process of acquiring response
1) Human environment is conventional, morphologies is in fact a process of continuous
and this is possible only because of the interactive differentiation and expansion of sensory,
and reproductive character of language(s); phonetic and graphic-producing responses.
2) Both, environmental events and Stimulus discrimination, stimulus generalization,
individuals actions, have a linguistic character imitation, response shaping, and other known
even when they are integrated by non-verbal techniques are the procedural devices informally
morphologies; used in this process. Since there is a vast literature
3) Linguistic dimensions may be identified on the topic (Alcaraz, 2000, 2002; Bijou, 1990;
only in reference to interactions among Bijou and Baer, 1961; Hart & Risley, 1995,
individuals and events. Thus, it is not possible 1999; Moerk, 1990; Sloane and Mac Auley,
to describe as linguistic any behavior isolated 1968; Staats and Staats, 1964), we shall not
from the interactive episode, even if the action is review it again. Nevertheless, we should mention
verbal according to morphological criteria. that when describing the mother strategies in
The acquisition of conventional teaching language to the child, these procedures
reactional systems must be distinguished from become intermingled in a complex process of
the acquisition of the aptitude to engage in setting conventional responses as functional
linguistic interactions, although, as we shall behavior in situational episodes.
see below, the former may be a necessary
condition for the later to develop. We prefer LANGUAGE AND FUNCTIONAL DETACHMENT OF

to use Kantors (1924-1926) term instead of RESPONSES

that of response class, which has some
conceptual weakness intrinsic to assumptions We previously remarked that although
based on the reflex paradigm. language as behavior consists in conventional
Three seem to be the basic issues in the responding, the availability of conventional
acquisition of conventional reactional systems: reactional systems is not sufficient.


Conventional responses, as different from a chair nor in the condition in which a chair
strictly biological -or ecological- responding, is located that obliges an individual to
have a wider range of functional detachment biologically respond with the utterance chair.
in regard to the physicochemical properties of The utterance and the actions performed
situational events. Non-conventional behavior in relation to the chair might change without
consists in the individual responding to events any corresponding change in the referred object.
according to their physicochemical properties. The arbitrariness of the relation between
The morphology and function of the responses conventional responses and the morphologies of
is adjusted to the morphology and objects and situational contingencies in which
physicochemical conditions of objects and are performed is the dimension that allows for
events interacted with. In order to turn a knot detaching the functions of such responses from
there are few ways of handling it that are particular physicochemical environmental
successful. The form, weight, resistance and conditions. To functionally detach a response
texture of the knot restrict the range of possible means several things. It means that:
morphologies. The same can be said about any a) Several conventional responses may
other type of movement or sensory response: be performed to the very same object or
physicochemical conditions of events shape-up stimulus condition;
the morphological features of responding, and b) The same response may be
therefore, the functional range of the behavior performed to objects differing in
involved. On the contrary conventional physicochemical properties;
responses are arbitrary in form, and hence, they c) Responding is not necessary in
do not keep any necessary biological relation with presence of the object or stimulus
the morphology of physicochemical properties of physicochemical dimensions;
events interacted with. The particular morphology d) Responding is performed to an object
of an action related to events depends upon the or event not present, but as responding to its
contingency defined by social convention, previous or future occurrence;
although the convention itself is always to be e) Responding is performed to an object
identified upon criteria based in the or event taking place in a different environment;
physicochemical properties of the events f ) Responding consists in acting in regard
involved. Conventional responses are not only to objects and events properties that are not
arbitrary responses in regard to their apparent in terms of sensory interactions, e.g.,
morphology, but also in regard to their beauty, radioactivity, etc., and
morphological correspondence with g) The response may be performed in
physicochemical properties of objects and situations in which events and objects are
events. The way we call an object is not only related as part of a contingency different to
arbitrary in terms of our biological reactivity, that being present.
but also is arbitrary in relation to the particu- The first three forms of detachment of
lar properties of that object or the situational conventional responses are shared with non-
contingencies in which the action is performed. conventional responses, but the last four are
There is not any physicochemical property in exclusive of conventional actions. The arbitrary


character of conventional responses makes substitutional contingencies mediated by the

possible to respond to events not present, events individual conventional responding. The
occurring in a different place, events not taxonomy of verbal behavior proposed by
apparent to sensory responding, or events under Skinner (1957) is exemplary of the case of
changing contingency relations. linguistic morphology that enters into
It might be anticipated that even in the three functional relations identical to those involving
former cases, conventional responses will be easier non-conventional responses, e.g. discriminated
to detach than situational-bound responses. This and non-discriminated operants.
means that if we compare human and non-human
subjects in their performance under situations LANGUAGE BEHAVIOR AS SUBSTITUTIONAL
involving the three former cases of functional CONTINGENCY INTERACTION
detachment as would be a conditional
discrimination task, we might predict that human If language as behavior is to be defined in
subjects, when matched in behavioral order to distinguish it from linguistic
development with non-human subjects, would morphologies that share functional properties
show faster acquisition and higher asymptotic with non-conventional forms of responding, we
levels (e.g., Hayes, 1985, 1989; Hayes & cols., might say that language is contingency-
2001; Sidman & Tailby, 1982). substitutional behavior (Ribes, 1991).
Nevertheless, this is not an automatic Contingency-substitutional behavior as a
process. Conventionality per se, although form of interaction has two defining functional
necessary, is not a sufficient condition for characteristics. First, to the extent that the
functional detachment to occur. Since human interaction involves at least two distinctive
environment is conventional from the very conventional responses, individuals participating
beginning for any individual, conventional in such a relation respond to each other and to
responses are acquired as if they were natural the events in terms that are not restricted to current
forms of behavior to natural conditions and contingencies as represented by the
events. Linguistic responses as well as events physicochemical situational dependencies. The
become related in particular situations as if the current interaction is expanded because of
contingencies relating them were to be universal. contingencies introduced by conventional
That is why young children respond to linguistic responding, which are not-only added to
events as if they were specific to the situation situational circumstances, but transformed as
where they were initially presented or substitutional relations. Second, these substitutional
performed. This happens also with retarded relations may consist of relations regarding a par-
children, chronic psychotic patients, or ticular event or object, but detached from the
sometimes with illiterate people. Linguistic temporal, spatial and apparent properties of such
actions are performed as situational-bound an event (referential substitution), or of relations
responses, that is, as the only and necessary regarding conventional response-produced events,
form of responding to a particular event relation. without attachment to any particular
For functional detachment to occur it is needed physicochemical events (non-referential
a history of interactions promoting substitution). In both cases, interactions are


regulated by contingencies depending upon the motivational state and reinforcer specified by the
conventional responses involved as relation. utterance. The mand is a pure instance of the
Such an arrangement allows for the non-discriminated operant; there is no available
detachment of non-conventional and discriminative stimulus (although the listener
conventional reactivity regarding any particu- as audience is sometimes described as a sort of
lar physicochemical property or dimension in generalized SD); there is a response emitted
the current situation. under particular motivational conditions (the
Non-substitutional contingencies refer to lack or presence of some stimulus or object whit
reciprocal dependencies among events and the positive or negative reinforcing properties); and
individuals behavior established by the now there is a listener (which works as a surrogate of
here - apparent properties of the situation. The a mechanical device) providing the reinforcer
individual interacts with events in terms of present specified by the mand. Asking for a glass of water
and observable functional dimensions. This kind and demanding a loud noise to be set-off are
of interaction, even when performed relative to classical examples of the mand relation.
linguistic-morphologies both in stimuli and The tact relation deals with the epistemic
responses, remains as prelinguistic in regard to or semantic aspects of language. In the tact, there
the level of organization of behavior. This is is an antecedent non-verbal stimulus (since verbal
tantamount to say that, although involving ver- stimuli can not be tacted), whose physical
bal or linguistic morphologies, the interaction is properties develop stimulus control over the verbal
attached to the current dimension of the situation response which is reinforced by generalized
contingencies. Conventional behavior functions reinforcement when occurring in their presence.
as if it were biological situational-bound behavior. The tact consists in a discriminated operant,
It is important to point out that substitutional where a non-verbal, physical stimulus is the SD
contingencies do not refer to a process of stimulus controlling a verbal operant, the tact, which is
or response substitution, but to a process of followed by generalized reinforcement provided
contingency transformation regarding original and by a listener. Description, identification,
current events. narration of events, and similar behavior
In order to exemplify the difference exemplify the tact relation.
between conventional interactions under We shall not go into the discussion of some
substitutional and non-substitutional conceptual problems present in these categories.
contingencies, let us examine some of the verbal We shall limit ourselves to show that both, the
operants proposed by Skinner (1957) in his mand and the tact relations, describe situational-
analysis of language. We shall discuss only two bound interactions, and that in consequence there
of them, which seem to be basic to his is no need of a special treatment different from
taxonomy: the mand and the tact. that provided to non-verbal operants. The
In the mand relation, a speaker utters a inclusion of conventional responses on the side of
verbal response (or performs a gesture or the speaker does not modify the basic interaction
indication) that is followed by the response of a holding in animal behavior, where no
listener (normally a non-verbal response) conventional responses intervene. When logically
reinforcing the speaker according to the extended, Skinners definition of verbal behavior


(1957, p.224-225) considers the behavior of any Substitutional contingencies always

experimental animal as a special case of manding involve conventional responses, but under a
or tacting (p.108). In both cases, the individual form of interaction in which the speaker (or
is responding not to transform contingencies reader, writer and gesturer) introduces
prescribed by situational events, but under the functional dimensions not present in the
particular contingencies that those events situation, which change the way a second in-
establish, e.g., the deprivation conditions, the dividual (or the speaker himself under special
physical properties of prior stimulus events, the conditions) interacts both with the speaker and
history of reinforcement under a particular listener the events which the speaker is mediating
when some verbal responses are emitted, etc. On through his conventional response. Both, the
the side of the speaker it does not seem to be any behaviors of the listener and the speaker are
functional difference between asking for water, linguistic since both participate in a
looking for a glass of water, or physically obliging contingency which substitutes those prevailing
a listener to handle him a glass of water. The as a function of the physicochemical conditions
difference lies only in the effort exerted and the of situational events. Substitutional
morphology of the emitted response. There are contingencies do operate only when the
differences, nevertheless, on the side of the listener. behavior of individuals becomes functionally
The listener response in handling a glass or water detached from present physicochemical based
to the speaker is linguistic to the extent that the contingencies. Examples of linguistic behavior
relation between the petition and the behavior under substitutional contingencies are those
for looking for serving and passing a glass of water describing how the speaker sets differential
does not keep any biological or physical necessity reactions of a listener to events not present or
with the speakers behavior. Comparing the mand not apparent according to what he says about
with an animal analogue, the behaviors of pressing them or about his behavior to them. Rumor,
a lever by a food-deprived rat and pulling a chain prejudice, persuasion, planning, and similar
when water-deprived in order to be reinforced by social phenomena illustrate the effect of
a priory-programmed equipment, are not different substitutional contingencies. Although issues
from uttering food or water by an individual related with communication and thinking are
asking for such stimulus consequences. The central to substitutional contingency behavior,
linguistic behavior is displayed by the there may be similar phenomena as pre-
experimenter who programmed the equipment linguistic and paralinguistic communication
in such a way that the animal gets differential and thinking (Epstein, Lanza & Skinner 1980)
reinforcement for each type of response. The tact which are non-substitutional.
relation shows similar problems to the discussed
above, but centered on the response to the FUNCTIONAL STAGES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF
antecedent stimulus. The treatment given to the CONVENTIONAL BEHAVIOR AS LANGUAGE BEHAVIOR
tact (as well as to the echoic of textual relations)
does not allow-for distinguishing verbal behavior In this section we shall introduce several
from animal analogues using, even sometimes, concepts useful to understand the development
conventional stimuli or responses. of conventional behavior as language behavior.


If our interest is not in behavior as a mere dispositions about modes of interaction, the
action but in behavior conceived as interaction, achievement of a particular developmental stage
any account of language as behavior must does not preclude that the individual may
consider not only the behavior of individuals engage in less complex forms of interactions
as an event in sequential relation with other regarding particular sets of responses and
events in time and space, but on the particular situational events (this process is similar to
form in which behavior participates in the Piagets (1947) concept of dcalage). Because
organization of the interactive field. Individual of this, we must distinguish between functional
behavior is not merely an effect to be looked aptitudes and functional competences. The last
for. It is a functional component intervening ones consist in sets of response morphologies
in the organization of contingencies in any (or skills) which are functional in regard to
situation. The function performed by the certain conditions in the environment,
behavior of the individual will change in quality conditions involving particular sets of objects,
depending on how critical or relevant becomes events and relations, or particular arrangements
in the configuration of the ongoing of contingencies. Response morphologies are
contingencies. This qualitative character of always relevant to objects properties and
behavior in shaping up contingencies shall be morphologies, e.g., the movement for opening
called functional aptitude. Then, a functional a door depends upon the doors mechanism and
aptitude is a concept describing the quality of the form of the knob.
the organization of behavioral interactions in Competences, then, are formed by
contingency fields. Therefore, we assume that responses which share functional properties
behavioral interactions may be classified along because of their morphological correspondence
a qualitative continuum, in which the or equivalence in regard to environmental
taxonomic criterion is based on the role objects, events and contingencies. Although
performed by behavior in the organization of morphological features may be prominent in
contingency fields (Ribes, 1990a). On the same the grouping of responses as competences, this
token, the recognition of different functional depends upon their functional equivalence
aptitudes imposes the need to analyze language regarding environmental conditions. So,
behavior processes in developmental terms. competences may consist both in responses with
The development of functional aptitudes similar morphology and/or with different
regarding language behavior is conceived as a morphology. Because of this, and depending
continuously inclusive process, in which each on the morphological range of competences, the
aptitude becomes the necessary condition to achievement of functional aptitudes in regard
achieve the next developmental stage. The new to a competence or group of competences does
aptitude level achieved, nonetheless, does not not produce necessarily a similar effect on the
exclude previous ones. These are incorporated rest of available competences. Anyhow, it might
as components of the new form in which the happen that, when competences share common
individuals behavior enters into the morphologies this effect could take place. But,
organization of contingencies. But since as a general rule, we should expect that
functional aptitudes refer to general development, defined in terms of competences,


must evolve as an asymmetrical process. such a way even in the absence of the particular
Therefore, the availability of a particular conditions in which such behavior is relevant.
competence is restricted to a level of functional The occurrence of conventional behavior under
aptitude, and it never may be considered as circumstances consisting in partial ongoing
performable in every-type of contingency field. contingencies is followed by the completion of
We may propose five general stages of those contingencies when the behavior takes
functional development, even when each place within the temporal and spatial
aptitude level itself may comprise differentiated boundaries in which events relate each other
modes of interaction (we have described these and when other individuals may mediate them
differentiated modes as developmental momentos through their behavior (linguistic or not)
in Ribes (1986) and in Ribes and Lpez according to standard social practices. Being
(1985)). The general stages are the following: so the case, the individual behavior performs a
1) Behavior does not change new role. Behavior is not limited to a reactive
contingencies in the environment. process, but becomes functional in the
Contingencies among events act on the indivi- production of contextual relations, that is, the
dual, and the behavior evolves as differential behavior acts on the environment affecting
reactivity to these contingencies. In the case of contingencies to which the individual is already
human behavior, it consists not only in differentially reactive. What Skinner (1957)
orienting and displacement responses which describes as effective manding and
allow for a differential effect of contingencies, intraverbal behavior develops in this stage
but on the development of conventional (these terms are used only as examples because
morphologies integrated to those actions. This of their standard use in the field). Since the
stage has to do, among other things, with the individual alters the occurrence of contextual
modulation of phonetic, sensory and motor contingencies acting on and changing the tem-
behavior, the recognition of stimuli, its poral and spatial conditions in which they take
patterning and meaning relations with place, this functional stage of development may
objects and actions, the functional be considered as a supplementary mode of
orientation to events in terms of the linguistic interaction.
stimuli which form them, the emergence of 3) As development proceeds according to
imitative verbal and non-verbal behavior as social conventions and standards, contingencies
regulated by verbal stimuli, and so on. Since become increasingly complex. Individuals must
the individual is reactive only to learn to interact with situations consisting in
contingencies that depend upon proximal contingencies conditional to multiple and
temporal and spatial relations, this functional relational factors. These relational
stage of development may be considered a contingencies require that individuals instead
contextual mode of interaction. of interacting with particular properties of
2) To the extent that particular forms of contextual and supplementary fields become
conventional behavior are modulated by responsive to classes of functional events
environment contingencies, the individual established according to relational proportion
develops dispositions or tendencies to respond in of events. In human behavior, the events which


regulate functional properties of varying The new functional contingencies, thus

physicochemical dimensions of actions and introduced are identifiable in physicochemical
events are linguistic. Most of the concrete terms, but are present only as the response by
operation stage behaviors described by Piaget an individual to them in different temporal,
(1978) and followers are characteristic of this spatial and observable dimensions.
stage, as well as many apparently non-linguistic This is only possible because conventional
actions which are the content of moral and behavior (both by the referrer an referee)3 does
social development (Bijou, 1976). Anyhow, not keep any necessary biological relation with
these interactions are still bound to the contingencies framing the substitutional
situational restrictions of contingencies, in such interaction. Talking about past events,
a way that they are not detachable from the describing abstracted properties of things, or
temporal, spatial and apparent properties of the reacting to events taking place in a different
involved events. The individual is still situation, are examples of new contingencies
interacting with events which are functionally mediated by the conventional responding of
independent of linguistic conventions. These an individual as the stimulus condition under
act as selector factors over situational which another individual responds to the
contingencies and behavior. mediated events. This stage may be described
4) Conventional contingencies take over in terms of the process of referential substitution.
the regulation of interactions only when the 5) When the individuals are able to
individual is able to condition the behavior produce and respond to conventional stimuli
of other individuals to events in terms of his with conventional behavior, contingencies do
linguistic interaction with both. The indivi- not affect any more the interaction of another
dual is not mediated by linguistic individual with substituted events.
conventions, but mediates through linguistic Contingencies as interdependent relations
conventions the behavior of others in regard among events and behavior become restricted
to events in the environment. The linguistic to conventional relations between conventional
actions to both, events and other individuals, events. In this stage conventional behaviors
introduces new contingencies based on the become the relevant stimuli, consisting the
conventional properties of the action as contingencies in the functional and structural
response and as stimulus, that substitute for relationships among them.
those prevailing in terms of the To the extent that mediation takes place
physicochemical properties of events framed within conventional actions and their
by current situational conditions. In order products, this stage may be characterized by
to introduce or transform new contingencies a process of non-referential substitution.
into a situation which do not depend on Examples of this level of interaction are
current physicochemical dimensions it is conceptual problem solving, musical and
required to respond to and generate stimuli literary composition, mathematical and logical
which are detached from such dimensions. behavior, and similar linguistic interactions.

3. We prefer to use Kantors (1977) conception of a bi-estimulational relation among referor, referrer and referee, than the more restricted and ambiguous
description in terms of a speaker and a listener.


THE ANALYSIS OF LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AS AN Because of this, we propose that the

INTERACTIONAL PROCESS analysis of language acquisition and
development must be based on three
Since the acquisition of conventional methodological strategies, which may be
morphologies and functions consists in a combined in order to provide for stronger
developmental process, it must be analyzed in empirical foundations upon which to construct
terms of the continuous transition of behavioral a theory of language as behavior:
competences as taking place in a social interactive a) Longitudinal studies looking at
situation. In early stages this situation is defined changes in the classes of interactions between
by the mother-child interaction. Since in early the mother and the child, as well as for
stages this situation is centered on the mother- quantitative and qualitative changes in the
child interaction, our analysis will emphasize the separate behaviors of mother and child
dyadic unit, although in natural development comprising such interactions;
linguistic interactions build-up as complex b) Experimental studies synthesizing
relations including more than two individuals, classes of interactions through the
As Rodrguez and Rondal (1985) have manipulation of situational and reactional
pointed out, in spite that language acquisition variables; and
has been conceived as a process dealing with c) Comparative studies looking for
necessary interactions between the individual similarities and differences in developmental stages
and the social environment, most studies have between dyads according to processes identified
focused development as a one-sided process both in longitudinal and experimental studies.
looking only for changes in the vocal behavior This multiple strategy assumes the need
of the speaker. Taking language as an interactive for a common conceptual frame describing
process, which develops in time according to language processes as situational interactions
progressively complex social standards, requires and as developmental transitions. Observational
of a methodology stressing longitudinal categories, therefore, although descriptive of
changes in both basic elements of the dyadic reactional dimensions of behavior must be
unit. Hence, the analysis of language relevant to interaction processes taking place
acquisition has to be dealt with in terms of among the mother, the child, and
reciprocal changes in mother and child environmental events. Being so, they allow for
behaviors, changes which become structured reconstructing such processes under
as a developmental process in time (Moerk, experimentally contrived conditions, both as
1983, 1985; Ribes & Quintana, 2002; terminal stages or as transitional stages.
Rondal, 1990; Tomasello, 2005). The use of a Additionally, they provide for the necessary cues
longitudinal approach to language acquisition to select or sample stages in development in
does not exclude experimental or comparative order to carry over comparative observations
strategies. In fact, they become necessary to among individuals with different histories or
the extent that controlled replication of longi- individuals under different contextual variables.
tudinal observations is essential for an empirical In order to proceed in the analysis of
validation of developmental concepts. interactions between the mother and the child


it is necessary to specify the dimensions of as social practice; and b) as Kantor (1936)

language interactions which may be functional pointed out, grammatical descriptions to the
to the identification of developmental extent that emerge from individual and social
conditions, elements and processes. According practices, partially convey some of the
to the theoretical considerations previously functional conditions under, which speech and
exposed, these dimensions involve the written actions take place. We do not assume
following factors: that grammatical descriptions are necessary for
a) The variation and range in vocal and the explanation of language behavior, but that
non-vocal responses performed; they depict to some degree behavioral
b) The conventional patterning of these dimensions of the situation in which they are
response elements to become formal uttered as actions.
components of linguistic actions; We may reduce to three the basic
c) The appearance of stylistic stereotypes dimensions along which language acquisition
characteristic of types of contingencies and and development is to be analyzed: a)
situational interactions; morphological characteristics descriptive of the
d) The identification of types of physical properties of vocal and non-vocal
situational contingencies involving the exercise responses (sounds, movements, and elementary
of linguistic competences as particular phonetic emissions); b) formal characteristics
deployment of functional adjustments; describing conventional components and style
e) The identification of classes of linguistic according to social practices as abstracted by
interactions as competences dealing with grammarians (sentence components and
situational arrangements of events, and social grammatical modes among others); and c)
and linguistic relations; and functional characteristics of types of interactions
f) The identification of functional stages and involving linguistic behavior by the mother, the
momentos of linguistic aptitude according to the child or both in relation to events and
role performed by the individual in the mediation contingencies in the environment.
of contingencies involving linguistic actions Development of language as behavior may be
regarding linguistic and non-linguistic events. analyzed according to some theoretical relations
The first three factors involve dimensions expected to emerge among the three basic
of the reactional aspects of language as dimensions just outlined. These theoretical
conventional behavior, that is, the relations may be framed into different groups
morphologies, conventional units and style of of assumptions depending upon the dimensions
oral, gestural and graphic language. The last involved in the relation and the specificity of
three factors are related to the functional such relations.
dimensions of language as interactive behavior. We shall enumerate some of these
Reactive dimensions described in terms of assumed relations in order to provide for a
grammatical units are taken into account for theoretical outline accounting for the parti-
two reasons: a) grammatical units represent cular methodological concerns in the
formal conventions about the description of approach being described. Many of the
morphological and stylistic features of language relations and observational categories to be


described, have been identified and for a behaviorist theory of language

conceptually designed as part of a research development. Hence, we shall advance only one
project analyzing linguistic development tentative relation for each of the dependencies
with mother-child couples. These relations in the six general groups;
may be grouped in six classes: a) The appearance of vocal, articulated
a) Within morphological relations behavior is faster to the extent that the child
including changes in child behavior as a time develops first a differentiated gesture repertoire;
sequential process and changes in child behavior b) The variety of vocal and gesture
depending upon mother behavior; behaviors by the child will depend on the
b) Within formal relations including both variety in mothers behavior while interacting
time sequential and mother behavior- with him or her;
dependent changes in the child behavior; c) Verbs and nouns emerge as syncretic
c) Within functional relations involving responses describable as verb or nouns.
also time sequential and mother behavior- Depending of the differentiation of these
dependent changes in child behavior; primitive functional formal responses distinctive
d) Morphological-formal relations including syntactic styles may be expected to develop;
within child dependencies, and dependencies d) If a mother having a complex stylistic
between the mother and the child some of which repertoire simplifies its patterning in the
may be determined by the mothers behavior and interaction with the child, she will promote a
others by the child behavior; faster and diversified style patterning than if
e) Morphological-functional relations she maintains her adult-type speech;
involving the same type of dependencies e) The vocal identification (naming) of
formerly described; and objects by the child depends upon the prior
f) Formal-functional relations including the orientation to pairings of naming and object
same three types of dependencies just mentioned. presentation by the mother (Lowe, Horne,
We shall describe the kind of specific Harris, & Randle, 2002)
dependencies that may be expected to occur f ) The appearance of speech related to
within each group of relations. The relations absent events and objects depends upon the
outlined consider the functional influence of frequency of the mother ascribing symbolic
morphological and formal dimensions of properties to present objects, that is, talking
language in the development of interactive about an object as if it were a different one;
repertoires. This aspect has been traditionally g) The range of variation in conventional
neglected by behavioral-approaches. At best and non-conventional vocal behaviors will correlate
morphological description of language with an earlier emergence of differentiated formal
patterning has been considered isomorphic to speech as defined by stylistic patterns;
a functional account (Catania, 1972; Moerk, h) The range of variation and complexity
1977, 1980; Segal, 1977). Nevertheless, the in the mothers speech style will correlate with
relations to be enumerated are not exhaustive. an increased repertoire of non-conventional
Rather, they exemplify the nature of the manipulative and other physical contacts of the
research hypotheses that may be meaningful child with environmental objects;


i) The differentiation in articulated vocal observational system including both,

behavior by the child will increase the length analytical and synthetical elements. The
of speech patterns by the mother; system actually is composed by 7 dimensions
j) The range of differentiated conventional of mother-child interaction amounting more
vocal responses in the child will correlate with than 100 categories. All dimensions can be
the length, in time and number of successive synthesized in terms of the type and content
child-mother interactions, of linguistic episodes; of the interactive episode. Besides,
k) The functional correspondence of vo- developmental classes may be constructed from
cal and non-vocal behaviors in the mother will the crossing over of the various analytic and
affect the integration of vocal and non-vocal synthetic dimensions according to the
morphologies in the child; evolutive momento and functional aptitudes
1) The beginning of articulated-vocal previously proposed.
utterances by the child will increase the number From an analytic standpoint, three sets
of linguistic interactions with the mother: of components may be identified, according to
m) The complexity in speech style by the their molarity patterning: a) morphological
child will correlate with the possibility of elements in linguistic interactions which
modifying the contingencies involved in mother- include both vocal and non-vocal responses; b)
child interactions initiated by the former; formal units of conventional graphic and vocal
n) The variation in functional uses of vocal actions adjusting to normative functional ro-
responses in different situations and contexts by les; and c) extended patterns of vocal and
the mother will influence the differentiation and graphic actions conforming to speech style
diversification of speech style in the child; and relevant to conventional classes of interactions.
o) The changes in functional Morphological elements may be classified
performances of the child through linguistic according to the characteristics of the factional
actions -in relation to situations, objects, effects system and their correspondence with
and so on- will produce changes in the stylistic conventional forms of communicative
patterning of the mother vocal behavior responding. In such a way, we may describe
interacting with them and fostering new ways conventional vocal and non-vocal responses as
of responding. well as non-conventional vocal and non-vocal
The study of the type of relations responses. Among the later ones we may
mentioned must be undertaken as a double identify cries, babbling, whining, and smiling
process including both analytic and as well as orienting, manipulative motion, and
synthetic strategies. body-contact responses. In regard to the former
Analytic methodology is addressed to the ones, we may observe unitary, repeated and
identification of reactive components varying complex utterances as well as pin-pointing,
in molarity, whereas synthetic methodology functional manipulation, gestures, and facial
consists in the integration of reactive expressions (Ribes & Quintana, 2002).
components to the episodic situations in Formal units may be differentiated as
which they occur as functional interactions being emitted as graphic or vocal actions, but
involving extended relations. We created an they are always conventional forms of


responding. They include substantives, episodes may occur as straight relations between
adjectives, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, articles, the mother and the child or may take place
prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. intermediated by a third or nth event, e.g., an
Finally, stylistic patterns may be object, a happening or the action of another
structured as one-member and two-member individual. This analysis may help to observe
statements4. They may in turn be classified as if the interaction is didactic, situation-related
declarative, interrogative, negative and or situation-detached.
exclamative, among other language-games to A developmental analysis of linguistic
be learned through social practice behavior is not complete without taking into
(Wittgenstein, 1953). account the various functional levels of
Elementary components may be conventional morphologies.
synthesized according to three interactive Language functions must be understood
criteria: a) situational exercise of linguistic as the organization of interactions through the
competences; b) functional correspondence of mediation of linguistic actions. These actions
conventional and non-conventional involve the different roles assumed by the
responding; and, c) two events or multi-event participating individuals in such mediation.
episodes, conceiving the speaker and listener Thus, the synthetic dimensions just outlined
as events of the relation. must be complemented by the identification
The situational exercise of linguistic of the functional role of mother and child in
competences involves the role of the mother the organization of the linguistic field. This
and the child as mediators of or mediated in organization, referred to the previously
an interaction demanding the functional described functional aptitudes and
integration of non-conventional actions and developmental momentos, consists in the
events to conventional responses by the mother identification -regarding the child in our case-
and the child. Thus, linguistic competences as of how the behavior structures the
the disposition to engage in conventionally contingencies relating objects and individuals.
integrated episodes with objects and persons Therefore, a complete account of
may take place in various forms, according to language acquisition as different classes of
the contingency prevailing in the situation, e.g., functional behavior has to be based upon the
naming, asking for, prohibiting, allowing, analysis of episodes as contingency fields (Ribes,
repeating, simulating, describing, reproducing, 1990b). Contingencies, in such an account, are
asking about, comparing, etc. On the other not consequences, although include them.
hand, functional correspondence of Contingencies are to be understood as
conventional and non-conventional responding the concrete way individuals and objects
may be analyzed between individuals or within interact with each other in terms of the setting
a single individual providing for an assessment conditions procured by the conventional
of the integration of non-conventional behaviors reactive history of the child. We may assume
to linguistic actions and contingencies. Finally, a developmental process that begins with the

4. This classification, taken from H. Beristain, Gramatica Estructural de la Lengua Espaola. Mexico: UNAM, (1981), is based upon the identification of
conjugated verbs in the statements.


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