What Is Competence And Performance In Language And Linguistics

Competence And Performance has become very core topic in linguistic study.You Must understand about it. Being a linguist student it will help you for understand the things and guide you how you observe the things linguistically.


is a term used in linguistic theory, especially in generative grammar, to refer to person’s knowledge of his language, the system of rules which a language user has mastered so that it would be possible for that user to be able to produce and understand an indefinite number of sentences and recognize grammatical mistakes and ambiguities.


In linguistics, the term “performance” has two senses: (1) a technique used in phonetics whereby aspiring practitioners of the subject are trained to control the use of their vocal organs; and (2) a term used in the linguistic theory of transformational generative grammar, to refer to language seen as a set of specific utterances produced by native speakers, as encountered in a corpus.

The distinction between performance and competence in the transformational generative grammar, however, has been severely criticized as being not that clear-cut, and there are problems, often in deciding whether a particular speech feature, such as intonation or discourse, is a matter of competence or performance.

You Must Know The Difference Between Competence And Performance In order to understand Its Behaviour.

Competence and performance are the terms which Noam Chomsky uses to distinguish two types of linguistic ability. As I have said, performance is concerned with the mechanical skills involved in the production and reception of language, that is, with language as substance. So, for example, the ability to form letter shapes correctly when writing, or to make the right movements with our speech organs when speaking, are aspects of performance. And some kinds of reading difficulty –notably the problem of distinguishing between letter shapes, commonly called dyslexia – are performance related.

Grammatical competence, on the other hand, covers a range of abilities which are broadly structural. It entails two kinds of cognitive skills: firstly, the ability to assign sounds and letters to word shapes distinguished from each other by meaning – we can call this lexical knowledge: and secondly, the ability to recognize larger structures such as phrase and clause to which individual words belong  we can call this syntactic knowledge. And as we have seen from looking at the poem by Eugene Field, they are both necessary elements in the determination of meaning.

The distinction between competence and performance, however, is not unproblematic since performance can itself be represented as a kind of competence, and indeed, deciding whether a particular language difficulty is a matter of performance or competence is not always easy. But what Chomsky wants to emphasize by this distinction is that the mechanical skills of utterance or writing only have any value linguistically if they are a representation of grammatical competence.

It would be perfectly possible for someone to be trained to write or speak a passage in a foreign language without them having any idea of the words they were producing let alone their meaning. Performance does not necessarily imply competence, but without it, it is linguistically uninteresting. But what of the other difficulties I confessed to earlier – giving street directions and writing poetry? The first is something which many people find problematic.


The study of competence as the linguistic knowledge of the native speaker and performance as the actual production or utterance of that speaker is not an easy task. Not because the former is abstract while the latter is concrete, but also because there is no way to access to one’s linguistic competence.

The informant is no more the native speaker only, nor is the linguist himself; it is the psycholinguist as well. The linguist tries to infer the components of competence via studying the observable outcome, i.e. performance, and to make use of his/her own linguistic intuition. Thus, within a framework of a linguistic theory of competence only a grammar seems difficult to be formed.

 Furthermore, a grammar that linguists try to construct within a theory of linguistic performance characterizes only one part of the speaker’s knowledge. It describes the psychological process involved in using the linguistic competence in all ways that the speaker can actually use it. These psychological processes include: producing and understanding utterances, making judgments about them and acquiring abilities to do such things, etc

Being a model of those linguistic abilities that enable the native speaker of a language to understand that language and speak it fluently, grammar seems difficult to be explicitly stated. Competence is not always reflected by performance in a perfect way. The performance of a speaker could be affected by some non- linguistic factors such as boredom, tiredness, drunkenness, or even chewing a gum, etc.

by Abdullah Sam
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