Language and Communication

By George A. Miller | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
VERBAL HABITS

I vainly strove to recall the name of the master who made the imposing frescoes of the "Last Judgment" in the dome of Orvieto. Instead of the lost name-- Signorelli--two other names of artists--Botticelli and Boltraffio--obtruded themselves. The forgetting of the name could not be explained until after I had recalled the theme discussed immediately before this conversation. In these sentences we can find the words and names: Bosnia, Herzegovina and Herr, which may be inserted in an association series between Signorelli, Botticelli and Boltraffio. The name Signorelli was thus divided into two parts. One pair of syllables (elli) returned unchanged in one of the substitutions, while the other had gained, through translation of signor ( Herr), many and diverse relations.

-- SIGMUND FREUD

Verbal behavior is an adaptation to the social environment. Because reinforcement is given or withheld by parents, teachers, and friends, a child is able to draw distinctions and to develop concepts that would never be differentially reinforced by the inanimate environment. Reciprocal reinforcement in a social situation supports the evolution of complex communicative behavior. Some of the consequences of this social adaptation are worked out in the preceding chapter. We turn our attention now to the experimental study of the literate adult, the socialized product of years of reciprocal reinforcements. The verbal habits he has acquired from his social environment can be explored in a variety of ways, and they can be shown to be related to the way other psychological functions are performed. The question we shall raise in this chapter is: What verbal habits does the literate adult possess and how can we measure them? In Chap. 10 we ask: How are these established habits related to his perceptions, his ability to learn, and his memory? The discussion of the effects of verbal habits on thinking and problem solving are deferred to Chap. 11.


ASSOCIATIVE STRENGTH

We have seen that a reasonable account of communicative behavior can be built from a consideration of the associations between stimuli and responses. Some of these associations are reinforced until they become quite strong; other associations are seldom or never reinforced and so remain quite weak. When the same stimuli present themselves again, the stronger associations dominate

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Language and Communication
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Preface to Revised Edition vi
  • Preface vi
  • Contents ix
  • Foreword to the Teacher xi
  • Chapter 1 - By Way of Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Phonetic Approach 10
  • Selected References 46
  • Chapter 3 - The Perception of Speech 47
  • Selected References 79
  • Chapter 4- The Statistical Approach 80
  • Selected References 99
  • Chapter 5 - Rules for Using Symbols 100
  • Selected References 118
  • Chapter 6 - Individual Differences 119
  • Selected References 139
  • Chapter 7 - The Verbal Behavior of Children 140
  • Selected References 158
  • Chapter 8 - The Role of Learning 159
  • Selected References 173
  • Chapter 9 - Verbal Habits 174
  • Selected References 198
  • Chapter 10 - Some Effects of Verbal Habits 199
  • Selected References 222
  • Chapter 11 - Words, Sets, and Thoughts 223
  • Selected References 248
  • Chapter 12 - The Social Approach 275
  • Bibliography 276
  • Index 287
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