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More Linguistic Pairs

A linguistic pairing similar to Saussure's langue-parole is that of competence and performance, first articulated by Noam Chomsky.

As the words indicate, competence refers to a person's ability to use language, particularly to create new utterances and sentences based on grammar. Performance then refers to specific instances of the person's use of that language competence. To cite Katie Wales' A Dictionary of Stylistics:

Linguistic competence is the internalized knowledge users of a language supposedly have about its system, which enables them to construct and interpret an infinite number of grammatically correct . . . and meaningful sentences. . . . This implicit knowledge is to be distinguished from what we do when we actually speak, i.e. performance: the process of speaking and writing. (71)

Just as Chomsky found deficiencies in Saussurean structuralism, his own competence-performance has also been critiqued heavily and the focus now tends to be on communicative competence as opposed to mere competence, or simply the knowledge of language. To cite Wales again:

Communicative competence depends on social and cultural interaction, on relations of power, and must be acquired. It is easier to think of "incompetent" communicators (unable to make small talk, rude to superiors, etc.) than Chomskyan incognizants. (Wales 71)


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