Linguistic Competence By Noam Chomsky is somewhat similar to Saussure’s concept of language and parole.
Competence, according to Chomsky, is the native speaker’s knowledge of his language, the system of rules he has mastered, his ability to produce and understand a vast number of new sentences.
Performance is the study of the system of rules; performance is the study of actual sentences themselves, of the actual use of the language in real-life situation. So the speaker’s knowledge of the structure of language is his linguistic competence and the way in which it is uses his linguistic performance.
Competence is, then, an underlying mental system, it underlies actual behavior, linguistic institution ability to analyze language, detecting ambiguities, ignoring mistakes, understanding new sentences, producing entirely new sentences. Whereas competence is a set of Principles which a speaker masters, performance is what a speaker does. The former is a kind of code; the latter is an act of encoding or decoding. Competence concerns the kind of structures the person has succeeded in mastering and internalizing, whether or not he utilizes them, in practice, without interference from the many of the factors that play a role in actual behavior. For anyone concerned with intellectual processes, or any question that goes beyond mere date arranging, it is the question of competence that is fundamental. Obviously one can find out about competence only by studying performance, but this study must be carried out in devious and clever ways, if any successful result is to be obtained. In this ways the abstract, internal grammar which enables a speaker to utter and understand an infinite number of potential utterances is a speaker’s competence.
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This distinction has caused a lot of arguments in current-day linguistics. Some socio-linguists regard it as an unreal distinction which ignores the importance of studying language in its social setting. They say that many of today’s grammars are based on unjustified assumptions a speaker’s competence rather on his performance. But the division is a useful one, if not carried to extremes. In an ideal situation, the two approaches should complement each other. Any statements concerning a speaker’s competence must ultimately be derived from data collected while studying his performance.
Although Chomsky’ competence/performance closely resembles Saussure’s langue/parole. Yet the main difference is that Saussure streets the sociological implications of langue, while Chomsky stresses the psychological implications of competence. These distinctions are also parallel to a distinction made between code and message in communications engineering! A code is the pre-arranged signaling system. A message is an actual message sent using that system.