Communicative competence

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Communicative competence is a term in linguistics which refers to a language user's grammatical knowledge of syntax, morphology, phonology and the like, as well as social knowledge about how and when to use utterances appropriately.

The term was coined by Dell Hymes in 1966,[1] reacting against the perceived inadequacy of Noam Chomsky's (1965) distinction between linguistic competence and performance.[2] To address Chomsky's abstract notion of competence, Hymes undertook ethnographic exploration of communicative competence that included "communicative form and function in integral relation to each other".[3] The approach pioneered by Hymes is now known as the ethnography of communication.

The notion of communicative competence is one of the theories that underlies the communicative approach to foreign language teaching.[3] At least three core models exist. The first and most widely used is Canale and Swain's model[4] and the later iteration by Canale.[5] In a second model, sociocultural content is more precisely specified by Celce-Murcia, Dornyei, and Thurrell in 1995. For their part, they saw communicative competence as including linguistic competence, strategic competence, sociocultural competence, actional competence, and discourse competence.[6] A third model widely in use in federal language training in Canada is Bachman and Palmer's model.[7]

The understanding of communicative competence has been influenced by the field of pragmatics and the philosophy of language, including work on speech acts.[8]



  • Bachman, Lyle; Palmer, Adrian (2010). Language Assessment in Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Canale, Michael; Swain, Merrill (1980). "Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing". Applied Linguistics. 1 (1): 1–47. doi:10.1093/applin/1.1.1. 
  • Canale, Michael (1983). "From communicative competence to communicative language pedagogy". Language and Communication. 1 (1): 1–47. 
  • Celce-Murica, Marianne; Dornyei, Zoltán; Thurrell, Sarah (1995). "Communicative competence: A pedagogically motivated model with content specifications". Issues in Applied Linguistics. 6 (2): 5–35. 
  • Chomsky, Noam (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press. ISBN 9780262530071. 
  • Hymes, Dell (1964), "Toward ethnographies of communication", American Anthropologist, 66 (6 part 2): 1–34, ISSN 0002-7294 
  • Hymes, Dell (1966). "Two types of linguistic relativity". In Bright, W. Sociolinguistics. The Hague: Mouton. pp. 114–158. OCLC 2164408. 
  • Leung, Constant (2005). "Convivial communication: recontextualizing communicative competence". International Journal of Applied Linguistics. 15 (2): 119–144. doi:10.1111/j.1473-4192.2005.00084.x. ISSN 0802-6106. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hymes, Dell (1972). "On communicative competence". In Pride, J.B.; Holmes, J. Sociolinguistics: Selected Readings. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pp. 269–293. ISBN 978-014080665-6.