communicative competence versus linguistic competence

Saville-Troike (2006) defines communicative competence as `what a speaker needs to know to communicate appropriately within a language community` (p. 100). In an essay of 700 to 800 words, discuss the following: How is communicative competence different from pure linguistic competence? That is, what else is involved in communicative competence in addition to linguistic ability? Do you believe linguistic competence is sufficient for effective communication (in some contexts, at least), or do you agree that communicative competence is always necessary? Provide some real-life examples to support your opinions. Also, refer to the information in chapter 5 of Saville-Troike (2000) `Introducing Second Language Acquisition` and in chapter 8 of Brown (2007) Principles of Language Learning and Teaching (5th ed.) in your essay.

Dell Hymes states, “A normal child acquires knowledge of sentences, not only as grammatical, but also as appropriate. He or she acquires competence as to when to speak, when not, and as to what to talk about, with whom, where, in what manner. In short, a child becomes able to accomplish a repertoire of speech acts, to take part in speech events, and to evaluate their accomplishment by others.”

Communicative competence is defined as an aspect of our competence that enables us to convey and interpret meanings and to negotiate meanings interpersonally within specific contexts (Saville-Troike, 2006). Whereas, pure linguistic competence is, subscribing to the various rules of a certain languages. It is the knowledge of grammar, structure and the other set definitions or limitations of the language. It means it is governed by rules or principles of use.

Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogeneous speech-community, who knows its (the speech community’s) language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors (random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance.” (Chomsky, 1965)

 Linguistic competence is the basis of communicative competence. Without linguistic competence, there is no communicative competence. But communicative competence does not automatically result from linguistic competence.

Linguistic competence is the rich body of intuitive knowledge about language and its rules of grammar that speakers have naturally assimilated as they acquired it.

It involves the grammatical competence knowledge of the vocabulary, word structure, and sentence structure of a language. Linguistic competence also involves many factors. One factor that contributes to linguistic competence is the ability to detect ambiguity and unravel ambiguity. Such as:

Visiting mother-in laws can be difficult.

There are two possible meanings in this sentence. It could mean:

1.)    I have to visit my mother-in-law. It can be difficult.


2.)My mother-in-law is visiting  us. She can be difficult.

Another factor is the ability to see relations, such as structural and semantic, among elements which are not overt.

1.)              Anna is hard to please. (It means that she is not easy to please and that it would take a lot to make her happy.)

We must remember that actual usage of rules in concrete situations differs from person to person, situation to situation.

            Communicative competence, on the other hand, results from a gathering of experience, knowledge, appropriateness of the situation or circumstance and sensitivity. Communicative competence is the socially appropriate use of language. (Paulston, 1992) It extends to both knowledge and expectation of who may or may not speak in certain settings, when to speak and when to remain silent, whom one may speak to, how one may speak to persons of different statuses and roles, what appropriate nonverbal behaviors are in various contexts, what the routines for turn-taking are in conversation …how to ask for and give information, how to request, how to offer or decline assistance or cooperation, how to give commands, how to enforce discipline, and the like – in short, everything involving the use of language and other communication dimensions in particular social settings.” (Saville-Troike, 1989)

It means that to effectively communicate we need to assimilate the languages culture. This encapsulates the language, the situation, the commonly used expressions and if it is proper or improper to use the expression or the word. Sensitivity is one of the main factors in communicative competence because it involves the prudence to say or not say something in a given circumstance or situation. Competent communication relies on many different factors that are difficult to explain exactly but it involves innate logic and reasoning on the speaker’s part.

Communicative competence is essential in language speaking because it gets the correct and accurate message across without meaning anything else other than what the speaker intends to rely. Mere linguistic ability does not guarantee the speaker’s intention if it is not said in the appropriate context or if the language is understood other than what it is supposed to mean.

Accurate grammar and at the same time, awareness of correct and appropriate usage is needed to get the message across. Communication may be regarded as a combination of acts, a series of elements with purpose and intent (Saville-Troike, 1989). There fore, it is necessary for the correct usage, (both in grammar and in social aspects) to get one’s intended message across.

To be competent in communicating, therefore would be, not just merely perfect in grammar or translation when speaking a language, but also to be competent in a language is to know its rules of grammar as well as its rules of use. Communicative competence should be both linguistic competence and linguistic performance. Complete knowledge will never be achieved without the fusion of both factors.


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