communicative competence n.
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Communicative Competence. Historical Overview: 1950s & 60s -- contrastive analysis 1970s -- Interlanguage Development, and Error Analysis

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communicative competence

Communicative Competence

Historical Overview:

1950s & 60s -- contrastive analysis

1970s -- Interlanguage Development, and Error Analysis

1980s & 90s --- Advent of CLT (Sociolinguistic emphasis of interpersonal and intercultural communication) -- Sociolinguistics drew our attention to various aspects of interpersonal communication such as discourse, interaction, pragmatics, and negotiation.  

chomsky 1965 in aspects of the theory of syntax

Definition of Communicative Competence

Chomsky (1965) in "Aspects of the Theory of Syntax."

Competence is the perfect knowledge of an ideal speaker-listener of the language in a homogeneous speech community.

Linguistic knowledge is separated from sociocultural features

"Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogeneous speech community, who knows its language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interests, and errors (random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance. (1965 p.3)"

dell hymes 1972

Dell Hymes(1972)

points out that Chomsky's competence/performance model does not provide an explicit place for sociocultural features.

also points out that Chomsky's notion of performance seems confused between actual performance and underlying rules of performance.


In the 1970s, research on "Communicative Competence" distinguished between linguistic and communicative competence to highlight the difference between knowledge "about" language forms and knowledge that enables a person to communicate functionally and interactively.

James Cummins (1979) -- proposed a distinction between CALP (cognitive/academic language proficiency) and BICS (Basic interpersonal communicative skills) ===> the-- these notions are later modified in the form of context-reduced and context-embedded communication

michael canale and merrill swain 1980

Michael Canale and Merrill Swain (1980)

Communicative competence is defined to consist of for different subcategories:

Grammatical competence : focuses on sentence-level grammar

Discourse competence : focuses on intersentential organization

Sociolinguistic competence: focuses on socioculturally appropriate use of language

Strategic competence: the verbal and nonverbal communication strategies that may be called into action either to enhance the effectiveness of communication or to compensate for breakdowns (through paraphrase, circumlocution, repetition, hesitation, avoidance, and guessing, as well as shifts in register and style").


Lyle Bachman (1990)Bachman proposed a distinction between language competence and communicative language ability (namely a distinction between linguistic competence and metalinguistic competence).In his schematization, Language Competence consists of Organizational competence and Pragmatic Competence

Organizational Competence

Grammatical Competence: phonetics/phonology/morphology/syntax/semantics

Textual Competence: discourse organization (cohesion/coherence)

Pragmatic Competence

Illocutionary Competence: instrumental/ regulatory/ representational/ interactional/ personal/ heuristic/ imaginative functions

Sociolinguistic Competence: dialect/register/nature/culture

language functions

Language Functions

Functions are the purposes that we accomplish with language, e.g., stating, requesting, responding, greeting, parting, etc.

Functions are directly / indirectly related to forms.

Communication is functional, purposive, and designed to bring about some effect.

Communication is a series of speech acts, which are used systematically to accomplish particular purposes.

Second language learners need to learn speech acts to accomplish the purpose of communication.


Michael Halliday's(1973) seven functions of languagein terms of the purpose of communication  (cf. the functions of bee language)

the instrumental function

the regulatory function

the representational function

the interactional function

the personal function

the heuristic function

the imaginative function


Notional-Functional Syllabuses: functions as organizing elements of foreign language curriculum (cf. Structural syllabuses)

Notions --- refer both th abstract concepts (such as existence, space, time, quantity, and quality) and to situations/contexts (such as travel, health, education, shopping, and free time).

Functions -- refer to such functions/ acts as denying, declining an invitation, asking permission, apologizing, etc. -- it is very important aspect of conversation competence to learn the conventionalized forms of accomplishing such functions.

discourse analysis

Discourse analysis

Language is more than a sentence-level phenomenon.

conversation analysis cf text analysis

Conversation Analysis (cf. Text analysis)

Rules of conversation are important aspects of communicative competence.  Nevertheless, they have been ignored by the traditional foreign language curricula.

attention getting

topic nomination

topic development :  turn-taking / clarification, shifting, avoidance, interruption

topic termination

It is important for teachers to be acutely aware of the rules /conventions of conversation and to aid learners to both to perceive those rules and follow them in their own conversations.  Without knowledge and use of such rules / conventions, language learners may be reluctant to participate in a conversation because of their inhibitions, or they may be considered obnoxious by their hearers.

grician maxims of conversation h p grice 1967

Grician Maxims of Conversation(H.P. Grice 1967)

Quantity: say only as much as is necessary for understanding the communication

Quality: say only what is true.

Relevance: Say only what is relevant.

Manner: Be clear



Study of contextual contribution to the meaning of linguistic forms.

Pragmatic conventions from the first language can transfer both positively and negatively.

language and gender

Language and Gender

Styles and Registers

Style varies depending on subject matter, audience, occasion, shared experience, and purpose of communication.

Martin Joos' (1967) classification of speech styles in terms of formality: oratorical / deliberative / consutative / casual / intimate.

Register varies depending on the social identity of the speaker (occupation, socio-economic status)

nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication

Kinesics (= body language)

Eye contact




Olfactory dimensions

communicative language teaching clt

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

the goal of education is communicative competence, not just grammatical competence

actual use of the language is more emphasized than structural knowledge of the language

fluency is more important than accuracy

students have to use the language in unrehearsed contexts. (instead of mere pattern practices, rehearsed exercises, etc.)  (cf. inductive learning)

problems of clt

Problems of CLT

We must be aware that there is some degree of discrepancy between the principles of CLT and what the theory of Communicative Competence (CC) suggests. CLT emphasized on the ability to execute one's communicative needs rather than on the complete knowledge of language use for communication. According to Richards and Rodgers (1986), CLT has some priority principles such as:

    use > usage,  meaning > form,  fluency > accuracy

The notion of communicative competence intended by Hymes does not provide any priorities for any single components, or aspects over another. Hymes did not claim that a language user does not need to have a accurate knowledge of linguistic form or usage, but rather claimed that the perfect knowledge of linguistic form is not enough to make him/her a communicatively competent language user. Wolfson (1989) points out that grammatical competence is an intrinsic part of communicative competence but in many cases, the term CC misinterpreted for language teachers and curriculum developers as the separation of grammatical competence from CC.


If CLT's goal should be the acquisition of CC in target language, this is highly demanding for any L2 learner to achieve and does not seem achievable, consequently. Therefore, if we need to set up an accessible goal of language teaching, we must first assess what kind and level of communicative competence will be sufficient for specific L2 learners in a specific situations. This means that learning goals cannot be prescribed until learners' needs and wants and the contexts in which they use target language are described. Also, the curriculum has to be designed by the gradual developmental change of learner's language. Therefore, the focuses and emphases on form/function or fluency/accuracy should be shifted and consequently, the priorities mentioned above will be changed as the course and language learners' language ability progress.