Communicative CompetenceThis is a featured page

Communicative competence also involves knowing what to say to whom in what circumstances and how to say it. (Hymes, 1972).

Linguistic Competence Linguistic Performance
Data: Intuition and abstract knowledge of an idealized fluent speaker-hearer Data: Actual speech of real interlocutors in a social world
Focus on internal linguistic structure and form Focus on externalities
Production of linguistic forms Use of language to perform functions and acts
Grammaticality as a criterion Acceptability as a criterion

As Hymes (1972) explains, communicative competence is demonstrated by knowing the following:
  • Whether and to what degree something is grammatical (linguistic competence)
  • Whether and to what degree something is appropriate (pragmatic competence)
  • Whether and to what degree something is feasible (psycholinguistic competence)
  • Whether and to what degree something is, in fact, done (communicative norms)
Nessa Wolfson (1989)—“Second language acquisition is the acquisition of what Dell Hymes has called Communicative Competence.”

Dell Hymes’ model of communicative competence includes knowing the rules of speaking, including knowledge of the appropriate contexts of speaking, acquisition of communicative norms for a speech community, turn-taking, an understanding of how role-relationships are structured, linguistic competence, and pragmatic knowledge about speech acts (Hymes, 1972, 1977).

Hymes (1966) said that speakers who could produce any and all of the grammatical sentences of a language (per Chomsky’s 1965 definition of linguistic competence) would be institutionalized [thrown into a hospital for crazy people] if they tried to do so.

Nancy Hornberger uses Hymes’ model of communicative competence to analyze speech events in an ethnographic piece, using herself as the subject of language learning.

Teresa Pica looks at social interaction in the classroom and argues (1986) that the field lacks a complete picture of what is necessary to acquire a SL. She recognizes that the learning environment must include opportunities for engagement in meaningful social interactions with TL speakers in order to be exposed to linguistic and sociolinguistic rules. Language learners need to be exposed to the proper environment because much of linguistic and sociolinguistic rules is held as tacit knowledge, and transfer of tacit knowledge requires exposure to the environments in which this linguistic and sociolinguistic knowledge is naturally applied. However, the teaching environment needs to do more than just expose students to the proper environment. The lessons need to be designed not just to make tacit knowledge salient but to make it explicit—and thus, teachable—wherever possible.

Rebecca Freeman looks at language and gender issues, as well as at role relationships through the use of ethnography of communication. Ethnography of communication has been widely associated with Dell Hymes, and it is used to identify rules of speaking in particular “communities of practice.” Freeman argues that teaching students how to conduct such ethnographies will lead them to be able to develop strategic competence by being able to identify and target communicative norms. In addition, she argues for the discussion of findings from a critical discourse perspective, identifying and focusing in on the implications for power of language usage choices.

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