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Biplob Prodhan
  • 1 month ago
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How was Chomsky distinguished between competence and performance?


How was Chomsky distinguished between competence and performance? [‘12,‘15,‘16]

Ans. Noam Chomsky is one of the leading linguists of the modern era. His ‘Syntactic Structures’ has proved to be a turning point in the 20th century’s linguistics. He proposed his linguistic theory of generative grammar which departed radically from the structuralism and behaviourism of the previous decades.

A major aim of generative grammar was to provide a means of analysing sentences which take account of underlying level of structure. Chomsky distinguished between knowledge of a language and its actual use which is similar to Saussure’s langue and parole. He referred to the first as competence and the second as performance.

CompetenceAccording to Chomsky, competence is the ideal speaker-hearer knowledge about a language. Competence is a linguistic theory, especially in generative grammar, refers to person’s knowledge of his language. He described competence as an idealised conception of language which is seen in opposition to the notion of performance which refers to the utterances of speech. According to him, competence has been used as a reaction to the linguistic era before generative grammar.

Performance: According to Chomsky, performance consists of the comprehensive and production of language. Since performance occurs in different settings with different personalities, it is directly affected by various external factors like speech community, culture, formal and informal situations and so on. Very often, performance is an imperfect reflection of competence, such as, the fact that people make occasional ‘slips of the tongue’ in their everybody conversation doesn’t mean that they don’t know their language or don’t have fluency in it. For Chomsky, ‘slips of the tongue’ and similar phenomena are performance errors attributable to a variety of performance factors like tiredness, boredom, drunkenness, external distraction and so on.

Indeed, Chomsky’s distinction between competence and performance is analogous to Saussure’s concept of langue and parole. Similar to competence, langue also reflects cognitive linguistic knowledge. And like performance, parole refers to the actual speech used by the speakers of a language.

It’s noteworthy that, previously, the concepts of competence and performance were used synonymously. It was Chomsky who made distinction between them by arguing that, competence is the internalisation of grammatical rules and performance is the actual utterances which learners produce.

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