Symbols, Stimulus Equivalence and the Origins of Language


Dickins, Thomas E. and Dickins, David W. 2001. Symbols, Stimulus Equivalence and the Origins of Language. Behavior and Philosophy.
AuthorsDickins, Thomas E. and Dickins, David W.

Recent interest in the origins of language, within the strongly cognitive field of Evolutionary Psychology, has predominantly focused upon the origins of syntax (cf. Hurford, Knight and Studdert-Kennedy, 1998). However, Ullin Place's (2000a) theory of the gestural origins of language also addresses the more fundamental issue of the antecedents of symbols, and does so from a behaviourist perspective, stressing the importance of the peculiarly human ability to form stimulus equivalence classes. The rejection by many developmental psychologists of a behaviourist account of language acquisition has led to a modular and distinctly nativist psychology of language (cf. Pinker, 1994, 1997; Pinker and Bloom, 1990). Little has been said about the role or nature of learning mechanisms in the evolution of language. Although Place does not provide any defence of a behaviourist linguistic ontogeny this is no reason to rule out his phylogenetic speculations. We aim to outline Place's evolutionarily parsimonious view of symbol origins and their relation to stimulus equivalence. We applaud Ullin Place for bringing symbols into focus within the broader discipline of language origins and suggest that he has raised an interesting set of questions to be discussed in future work.

Keywordssymbols; stimulus equivalence; learning
JournalBehavior and Philosophy
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Deposited10 Feb 2010
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Dickins, T.E. & Dickins, D.W. (2001) ‘Symbols, Stimulus Equivalence and the Origins of Language.’ Behavior and Philosophy 29, 221-244.

Page range221-244
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