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LANGUAGE COMPETENCE has sometimes been used as an idealized notion which somehow embodies the collective knowledge of a speech community in the person of an ideal speaker-hearer. However, the basic notion is the competence of an individual in a language. If the language in question is not the native language, it is taken for granted that the person may be proficient in the language to some degree. The standard is then generally set by native competence. However, native competence is itself a matter of degree. Consequently, objective criteria are required by which one may assess the competence of a person in one or more languages by a common standard. This presupposes a notion of linguistic competence which has empirical import. The paper tries to articulate a concept of linguistic competence which can be converted into language tests. A test was devised on this basis and administered to groups of native and non-native speakers of German. The results of the experiment suggest that there is no difference in principle between native and foreign language competence, whether on theoretical or empirical grounds.
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Christiani Lehmanni inedita, publicanda, publicata
Language competence. Theory and empiry
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39. Jahrestagung der Societas Linguistica Europaea, Bremen,
29.08. – 02.09.2006
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Folia Linguistica 41/2
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Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea,
Bremen, 30.08. – 02.09.06, Presidential address
Linguistic competence
Theory and empiry
Christian Lehmann
University of Erfurt
Language competence has sometimes been used as an idealized notion which somehow
embodies the collective knowledge of a speech community in the person of an ideal
speaker-hearer. However, the basic notion is the competence of an individual in a
language. If the language in question is not the native language, it is taken for granted that
the person may be proficient in the language to some degree. The standard is then
generally set by native competence. However, native competence is itself a matter of
degree. Consequently, objective criteria are required by which one may assess the
competence of a person in one or more languages by a common standard. This
presupposes a notion of ‘linguistic competence’ which has empirical import. The paper
tries to articulate a concept of linguistic competence which can be converted into
language tests. A test was devised on this basis and administered to groups of native and
non-native speakers of German. The results of the experiment suggest that there is no
difference in principle between native and foreign language competence, whether on
theoretical or empirical grounds.
Keywords: competence, performance, langue, parole, communicative com-
petence, language proficiency
1. Introduction
The purpose of the present work
is to develop a concept of linguistic competence that is
applicable to linguistic abilities of individuals in a uniform, objective way under a variety of
conditions. To that end, the concept must be theoretically well-founded and have clear
empirical correlates. An important corollary of well-foundedness is interdisciplinary
It arises from a seminar on “Sprachbeherrschung und Sprachbegabung” directed in tandem with
Karlfried Knapp at the University of Erfurt in the 2006 summer term. I thank Karlfried and the
students for helpful suggestions. Thanks also to Wolfgang U. Dressler, Paolo Ramat, Eva Hajičová
and Anna Siewierska, who discussed the presentation at the 39
Annual Meeting of the SLE at
Bremen, as well as to Teresa Fanego and two anonymous reviewers, without whose helpful and
stimulating criticism this paper would be much worse (and shorter).
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
The notion of ‘competence’ has its basis outside linguistics. It plays an important role
both in professional life and in disciplines concerned with the professional personality such as
sociology, pedagogy, psychology, personnel management. A competence is a bundle of
cognitively controlled abilities or skills in some particular domain. It implies both knowledge
and the ability and disposition to solve problems in that domain. Relevant domains are often
occupational areas; and a set of problems in such a domain is often called, for short, a job.
The solution of problems presupposes the ability to make informed and responsible choices.
Competence is essentially acquired through practice and experience. It is assessed according
to some established standard.
In psychology, a distinction is made between personal and professional competencies.
Since we are concerned with linguistic competence, we may say that from a general point of
view, a person’s linguistic competence is, first and foremost, part of his personality. On the
other hand, it is certainly one of those personal competencies that are highly relevant to
professional life. As a consequence, linguistic competence is one of the central concepts in
applied linguistics,
and there it has always been construed in such a way as to be applicable
to professional life.
It is the aim of the present work to assemble the multifarious aspects of linguistic
competence into a comprehensive notion. Many of the empirical issues of the paper have been
addressed by applied linguistics, especially by that branch which is devoted to foreign
language teaching and learning. There is, however, to this date no unified theory that would
be equally applicable to competence in native and foreign languages, to monolingual and
plurilingual competence. We need answers to questions such as the following:
1. What does a speech community consider linguistic competence?
2. As for the concepts of a competent speaker formed by different speech communities:
where do they differ, so that the concept of linguistic competence is culture-bound;
where do they overlap, so that there is a universal core to the concept?
3. Can the notion of linguistic competence relevant in a society be operationalized in the
form of a test by which the competence of a person in some language can be assessed?
4. How do the various factors making up linguistic competence correlate? For instance,
does lexical competence correlate with grammatical competence? Does procedural
competence, as defined in § 2.3 below, correlate with reflective competence?
5. Can a correlation between competence in one’s native language and aptitude in foreign
languages be ascertained empirically?
6. Is there a unified concept of language aptitude in the sense that a person apt for
languages is apt both for his native and for foreign languages?
First of all, answers to such questions have an intrinsic scientific interest. Quite in general, if
the notion of competence in a language can be turned into an empirical concept, then a
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is an important case in
point. Levels of proficiency are defined in terms of a multiplicity of communicative criteria. What is
generally missing is the operationalization of the levels in terms of tests and measures.
Cf. Nunn 2003 for recent problem awareness.
Anecdotal evidence of monolingual persons who are successful linguists, and polyglots without
much linguistic understanding, would lead one to doubt it.
Evidence in favor of this assumption is produced in Vollmer 1982:187f.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
number of issues become empirical issues. Take, for instance, question 4. Relevant research
may have a number of results, among them importantly the following three:
a. We find a close correlation among the competencies relating to the components of the
language system, while there is no correlation among competence in the language system
and variational/pragmatic/communicative competencies. Then we may feel entitled to
conclude that there is, after all, a competence in the language system that is separate from
other cognitive and social abilities.
b. We find, on the contrary, lack of correlation among the abilities concerning the language
system, while there may be correlations between some of these and other cognitive or
communicative abilities, e.g. between grammatical competence and analytic intelligence.
Then we may conclude that linguistic competence is constituted as the intersection of a
heterogeneous set of abilities.
c. We find a significant correlation among all the abilities constituting linguistic competence
in the wide sense. That would seem to argue that there is a unified and comprehensive
linguistic competence.
Apart from their theoretical significance, the questions posed above have considerable
practical import. A positive answer to question 3 would enable us to standardize language
proficiency tests and thus to put the assessment of the linguistic skills of subjects for
instance of pupils – on a more objective basis. A contribution to that problem is presented in §
4. Positive answers to questions 5f would enable us to administer a predictive test to a person
and to give him well-founded advice concerning his career.
Answers to some of these questions will be attempted; the rest – especially questions 1f –
is left for future research. In particular, the following theses will be proposed:
a. There is a unified concept of language competence, applicable to all the languages that an
individual knows, i.e. to native and foreign languages alike.
b. Language competence is similar to other human abilities in that individuals differ in the
extent to which they possess it.
c. ‘Language competence’ can be operationalized in the form of language tests that
determine the extent to which an individual possesses it.
d. For each individual, ability in a particular language depends on his universal linguistic
ability. This is true both for his mother tongue and for other languages.
e. Ability in one’s native language and ability in foreign languages, although normally
differing in extent, are objects of the same kind. I.e. there is no empirical correlate to the
construct of a unique ‘native speaker’s competence’.
In § 2, a set of basic notions will be introduced that are presupposed by any discussion of the
concept of linguistic competence. § 3 tackles the theoretical problem of linguistic
competence, first by reviewing some accounts found in the literature, then by assembling the
parts systematically. § 4 reports on a language test designed to measure the competence in
German of groups of native and second language speakers and concludes that while there is,
on average, a quantitative difference between the two groups, there is no categorical
difference in principle. § 5 completes the methodological perspective by a look at the
linguistic competence of linguists, and § 6 summarizes the results.
The issue and the various approaches that have been taken to it are the subject of Vollmer 1982.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
2. Basic notions
In this section, a set of notions that are ingredients to any conception of competence will be
introduced. Some of them may be elementary, others just require a definition in the face of
existent variation. In keeping with what was said above about interdisciplinary fruitfulness,
we will start with a supra-linguistic concept of competence; language will come in only in § 3.
2.1. Activity, ability, competence
A human activity such as pole vault, piano playing or speaking is some piece of controlled
behavior. As such, it is observable, i.e. it can be a source of primary data in the sense of
Lehmann 2004, § 3.3. An individual may perform a certain activity according to a certain
norm – to be discussed in § 2.4 – and subject to certain conditions like autonomy which will
be foregone here, and may so perform it repeatedly or regularly. To the extent that we verify
this, we infer that the individual is able to perform the activity. We say that the ability
underlies the activity, that the activity instantiates the ability. In that sense, the activity is
actual, the ability is virtual. Viewed methodologically, the ability is not observable; it is
abstracted from the activity.
Individuals interact with their environment on the basis of genetic disposition and
learning. The environment is articulated in domains, and individuals differ in their ability to
cope with different domains. An individual is competent in some domain iff he is able and
skilled to solve problems in that domain
and disposed for appropriate use of the solution (cf.
White 1959:297 and Klieme et al. 2003:72).
In unfolding the notion of competence, the following features are relevant:
a. Competence is a potential; it is based on the ability to manifest a certain behavior and to
perform a certain activity. The behavior and the activity are real in the sense of being
observable. A co m pe te nce m a y b e i nv es ti g a te d e mp iri c a l ly o nl y b y
o b se rv in g it s pe rfor m an ce .
By the same token, the concept of competence is
operationalized by testing the subject’s solution of certain problems; cf. § 2.2.
b. Competence is a goal-directed notion. As such, it involves a teleonomic hierarchy.
Assessing somebody’s competence in a domain therefore implies an assessment of his
performance against the various levels of the hierarchy. At the highest level, the issue is
only what the person wants to achieve and how well he reproducibly achieves that goal.
At the lower levels of the teleonomic hierarchy, reaching a goal involves use of certain
means. Here the issue is how skilled the person is in employing any of those means.
Overall success in achieving a goal should be a function of the performance at the various
Wiemann & Backlund (1980:187) speak of “effective behavior”.
Canale & Swain (1980:6) say: “one cannot directly measure competence: only performance is
To give a linguistic example: Marc Antony wants the power in Rome. In order to get it, he persuades
the audience that Brutus did wrong in slaying Caesar. To this end, he employs a variety of rhetorical
figures. These, in turn, involve certain sentence types, and these require certain intonation curves. In
order to shape these, the speaker requires some musicality. Consequently, the shape of Marc Antony’s
intonation curves contributes to changing the balance of power in Rome.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
c. Given that a competence involves skills evolved and put to use in interacting with a
certain domain, it follows that it must be at least partly acquired by the individual. Thus,
organisms of a certain species have an inborn faculty to acquire competence in a certain
domain, and then they acquire it depending on a variety of circumstances.
d. A competence may involve different capacities of the individual, such as perceptual,
productive, cognitive and social capacities. Some kinds of competence, such as musicality
or politeness, involve both perception and production. Perception involves the senses, and
further differentiation may then be based on the senses. For instance, perception of music
may go through the ears or through the eyes. Production may concern sheer bodily
behavior, as in swimming, or it may concern mental objects, as in painting and composing
The notion of competence does not apply to behavior that is exclusively bodily. For instance,
we may speak of an able swimmer, but not normally of a competent swimmer. Competence
only relates to activities that are cognitively controlled; it involves ability and knowledge (see
§ 2.3). This comprises abilities that reduce to the knowledge of some domain, as for instance
competence in medieval history. Importantly, it also comprises activities that combine
cognitive and social aspects on the basis of some bodily behavior. Consider the case of a
musician. The prerequisites for being a good pianist include the following:
a. Physiological: hearing, dexterity, brain capacity ...
b. Cognitive: memory, processing notes, understanding musical structure, perception and
rendering of the emotional atmosphere of a piece ...
c. Social: empathy with the composer, with the audience; empathy and cooperation with
musicians of the same band ...
As will be seen in § 3.3, linguistic competence shares with musicality this multiformity in
terms of the capacities involved.
2.2. Abstraction and idealization
Like any scientific concept, ‘competence’ involves some abstraction. Some existing concepts
of competence involve idealizations, in addition. In order to evaluate such concepts, the
distinction between abstraction and idealization must first be made clear. Moreover, since we
strive for an empirical concept of ‘competence’, we must show how it can be operationalized.
I therefore briefly discuss the notion of operationalization in this context.
Abstracting a concept from a base some data or a more concrete concept means
identifying those features that are constitutive of the concept, i.e. that are taken as crucial in
subsuming or not an object under the concept, while at the same time ignoring (leaving
unspecified) all those properties which the objects covered possess in addition but which are
immaterial to the concept in question. For instance, we abstract the concept of a table from
our experience with a set of tables. That concept does not comprise the color of the table(s).
This is so despite the fact that all real tables have colors. The concept does not deny this, it
just leaves it open. Abstraction is essentially a step in an inductive procedure, although it may
be guided (deductively) by more general principles.
A construct of thinking is an idealization of some concept iff it changes or omits any of
the features constituting that concept in order to simplify it. In an idealization, we assume a
state of affairs that does not correspond to known reality. We do so in a methodological
situation where our subject matter is so hopelessly complex that we are incapable of
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
proposing a theory all of whose concepts are interrelated in such a way as to cover
appropriately the interactions of the objects meant by them. In such a situation, we limit our
epistemic interest by singling out a concept and disregarding part of its complexity.
might, e.g., construct a concept of a colorless table, i.e. a table that does not reflect light. That
would be an idealization that is incompatible with our experience of tables, which teaches us
that all tables have a color. Moreover, there is by definition no methodological procedure that
would allow us to pass from the idealized concept to the basic concept (from a colorless table
to a real table). If there were, the idealization would be unnecessary. An idealization cannot
be arrived at inductively, it can only be deduced from axioms or (failing that) be stipulated.
A theory is an empirical theory, i.e. a theory of an object area existing independently of it,
only if its concepts and theorems can be operationalized. The operationalization of a concept
or theorem consists in specifying a set of procedures by which it is to be applied to some
observable phenomena. That typically involves the specification of a test that some
phenomenon must pass in order to be subsumed under the concept or, on the contrary, the
specification of certain phenomena that would, if they occurred, falsify a certain theorem.
Thus, operationalization of the concepts and theorems of a theory is an essential step in
rendering it falsifiable and, thus, empirical.
Since an idealized theoretical construct is one that comprises features which contradict
known reality, it is by definition neither falsifiable nor operationalizable. That means that one
admits idealizations in the construction of a theory at the price of immunizing it against
falsification, i.e. of depriving it of the status of an empirical theory. The question of whether
such a theory should be pursued in a science is then, ultimately, a question of the epistemic
interest of the people responsible for that scientific activity.
2.3. Cognitive levels of competence
A competence in some domain is a cognitively controlled bundle of capacities. As such, it
comprises the two levels shown in Table 1.
level competence
faculty content nature of actions
lower procedural ability skills of habile and experienced action
reflective knowledge
recursive reflection on the lower level
Table 1. Procedural and reflective competence
In this sense, Widdowson (1973:17f) speaks of an “extraction”, as opposed to an abstraction.
Lyons (1972:58f) argues for a distinction of three stages of idealization in relating utterances to
sentences: regularization, standardization, decontextualization. Observe, however, that no
methodology has ever been proposed to do this in an objective way. Lyons himself is frank enough not
to call the relevant methodological step ‘abstracting’, but ‘discounting’ properties of the data. That is,
while Lyons may have introduced some useful distinctions within idealization in linguistics, he has not
demonstrated how one can relate utterances to sentences. Nor could he ever do so, since any such
procedure would necessarily entail cancellation of the counterfactual assumptions underlying the
idealization of a ‘sentence’.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
Thus, procedural competence or ability in a domain comprises a set of skills of experienced
and effective action. This presupposes a certain amount of automatization of these skills.
Reflective competence or knowledge (or expertise
) in a domain comprises the control of
the concepts and mental operations necessary to reflect on that domain and on the relevant
procedural competence in a broader context, including the conditions, goals and consequences
of relevant actions and the choice of appropriate means. It includes the capacity to activate
procedural competence from a meta-level. This is necessary in order to control the ability and
to employ it responsibly.
The distinction between procedural and reflective competence is, of course, closely
related to the distinction between procedural and declarative memory well-known from
neurology. Procedural memory is subconscious, not amenable to introspection and cannot be
verbalized. Its content is learned by practice. By contrast, declarative memory is conscious,
amenable to introspection, can be verbalized, and its content is learnt by explanation. The two
kinds of memory apparently have different neural substrates (Anderson 1976).
Having only procedural competence in a domain means being unable to control it and,
consequently, to assume responsibility for its employment. Possessing only reflective
competence in a domain means having some declarative knowledge available in the sense of
being able to speak sensibly about it without, however, being capable of doing it oneself. A
musician incapable of speaking rationally about his skill, on the one hand, and a musicologist
incapable of making music, on the other, would provide examples of either type. On this
background, competence is understood as a holistic concept that reduces neither to some
routinized skill nor to some elicitable knowledge, but consists in a reflected ability.
Since reflection is recursive, it can reach ever higher levels. Consequently, the difference
between an expert and a layman in a certain domain is not that the expert unlike the layman
has reflective competence in it. Instead, the expert has reached higher levels than the layman.
In the best of cases, he has reached well-founded knowledge, i.e. cognitio clara distincta
adaequata in the sense of § 3.1.4.
Finally, the concept of proficiency should be mentioned. In general, the term refers to a
high degree of mastery of some learned skill. Relevant tests generally measure the degree to
which a person masters a skill by having him solve problems in the field in question and
having him score in terms of the number or difficulty of problems solved, often relative to the
time needed. Most proficiency tests make no principled distinction between reflective and
procedural competence. We will discuss this issue specifically with respect to language
proficiency tests (§ 4.1).
2.4. The norm
Evaluating somebody’s performance on some task presupposes a norm. For instance, if we
say that Maurizio Pollini plays the piano better than Jane Doe, we have a norm of piano
playing in mind that is approximated more closely by the former than by the latter. The far
majority of those who have an opinion on the matter coincide in that assessment. It is based
on the assumption that if the norm were codified and Maurizio Pollini’s and Jane Doe’s
In some disciplines (e.g. pedagogy), the term ‘expertise’ is used synonymously with ‘competence’.
A concept of competence that comprises ‘a combination of knowledge and skill’ is common outside
linguistics, e.g. in pedagogy (cf. Wiemann & Backlund 1980:192).
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
performance on the piano were put to an objective test, then the former would score more
highly in all relevant respects.
In the clearest cases, the extent to which somebody’s behavior approximates the norm can
be measured, which means that there is one or more scalar parameters whose values may be
assigned to an instance of the behavior. In music, for instance, the measure at which a certain
piece should be played can be fixed as a certain number of beats per second. In many cases,
performance is simply considered the better the higher the value reached on a certain scale.
That tends, for instance, to be the case for bodily activities as exercised in sports. For
activities that are at least partly social in nature, the issue is more complicated. Take table
manners as an example. They are a rather heterogeneous set of conventions concerning the
position of body parts at the table, use of the fingers and handling of the silverware, avoidance
of smacking and belching and the like. Measurement of performance is not what is at stake
here, but rather the adjustment of behavior to a set of rules.
In describing a norm for some social activity or ability such as competence in a language,
the following distinction must be made. There is
the norm of performance as a goal that members of the society strive for without
necessarily attaining it;
the standard performance, which is not a goal to be attained but instead a mean value
statistically determined on the basis of observed behavior.
The standard in this sense cannot replace the norm for most purposes and is presently not at
stake. The norm, in its turn, cannot be determined directly. The method for ascertaining it is a
complicated procedure:
1. Ask a random sample of members of the society the lower-level sample to point at
pieces of performance that represent, or come close to, the norm, or to identify members
or groups of the society that represent or set the norm.
2. Ask a random sample of the performers and norm-setters identified in step 1 the upper-
level sample – about features of the norm. In particular,
2.1. have them point out, in the specimina identified in step 1, items that represent the
norm particularly well, and items that fall short of being perfect, and determine the
underlying rules by generalizing over these cases;
2.2. or to the extent these individuals have codified the norm, ask them what the rules are.
Such a complicated procedure is necessary because, on the one hand, for many domains most
subjects in a lower-level sample will have insufficient knowledge of the norm, and on the
other, even norm-setters do not always observe the norm, as is sufficiently shown by the
example of table manners. It may even prove necessary to reapply step 1 recursively to the
upper-level sample because the lower-level sample may be too ignorant of the norm.
3. Linguistic competence
The starting point for an empirical theory of linguistic competence is the capacity or set of
capacities underlying the linguistic activity of the individual. We will see in a moment that
The mere supposition may sound elitist if language is concerned, but in other fields like medicine or
translation, the distance between a thoroughly competent specialist and a layman is generally taken for
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
this is a multi-factor notion.
Most of general and descriptive linguistic work is not directly
concerned with this notion taken holistically, but rather with various facets and abstractions of
it. It is, however, just this notion of the set of capacities underlying the linguistic activity of
the individual that forms the object of the present discussion. The next section presents a brief
historical sketch of the relevant concepts. § 3.2 is concerned with the relativity of linguistic
competence, while § 3.3 is the central part of the paper, which tries to outline a theory of
linguistic competence.
3.1. Some previous accounts
In what follows, some relevant contributions from the recent history of linguistics to the
problem of linguistic competence will be recalled. They do not form a coherent theory, but
instead throw light on our topic from different perspectives.
3.1.1. Langue vs. parole
In structural linguistics, the topic of linguistic competence is intimately bound up with the
relationship between what Saussure called langage vs. langue vs. parole. This trichotomy has
been conceived in a variety of ways. Several authors regard langue (and some even parole) as
something belonging primarily to the inter-individual rather than the individual sphere. In this
interpretation, langue does not correspond to any ability and is therefore not directly relevant
to our present concern. We will come back to this issue presently.
In Gabelentz 1901, some of the relevant concepts are yet characterized at a pretheoretical
level. The relevant passages of the work are the following:
Jeder normal entwickelte Mensch, der die Zeit der Spracherlernung hinter sich hat,
handhabt seine Muttersprache fehlerlos, solange sie ihm nicht durch fremde Einflüsse
verdorben wird. (p. 62)
The restriction added to the claim is explained further below, where it becomes clear that
Gabelentz is referring both to foreign influence and to misguided education. He insists that
exposure to adults who try to teach the child “educated” language will spoil or at least delay
acquisition of his mother tongue. The main claim itself is articulated as follows:
Fehlerlos richtig meine ich aber im Sinne des Sprachforschers, der in diesem Falle nicht
den Maßstab des Sprachlehrers anlegt. Mein verewigter Vater pflegte wohl scherzweise
zu sagen: „Richtig spricht, wer redet, wie ihm der Schnabel gewachsen ist.“ (p. 62)
Already Saussure (1916:11) says about his ‚faculté du langage’: „Pris dans son tout, le langage est
multiforme et hétéroclite ; à cheval sur plusieurs domaines, à la fois physique, physiologique et
psychique, il ne se laisse classer dans aucune catégorie des faits humains, parce qu’on ne sait comment
dégager son unité … Le langage a un côté individuel et un côté social, et l’on ne peut concevoir l’un
sans l’autre.“ (‘Taken as a whole, language is multiform and weird; concerned as it is with several
domains, physical, physiological and psychological at the same time, it cannot be subsumed under any
category of human facts, because one does not see how to lay bare its unity… Language has an
individual and a social side, and one cannot conceive one without the other.’)
“Any normally developed person who has left behind the period of language acquisition handles his
language faultlessly unless he experiences its deterioration by external influence.”
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
The point is, obviously, that if a person who does not suffer from pathological conditions is
speaking his mother tongue, whatever he says has to be taken as linguistically correct by the
linguist. This is certainly an extreme claim, probably to be understood partly as a polemical
reaction against certain tendencies of his time. It appears as if Gabelentz were not making a
distinction between an ability and the behavior manifesting it. As a matter of fact, earlier in
his book (p. 3) he does oppose the two concepts of language and speech, prefiguring thus the
Saussurean distinction between ‘langue’ and ‘parole’. And this very distinction shines through
a few sentences below the above quotation, where he says:
Die richtige Handhabung der Muttersprache geschieht unbedacht, ohne daß der Redende
sich von den Sprachgesetzen, die seine Rede bestimmen, Rechenschaft gibt. (p. 63)
There is, thus, a concept of what Chomsky (1965:40) will later call “intrinsic tacit knowledge
of the native speaker”. Taken to the extreme, Gabelentz is claiming that reflection upon one’s
conditions of speaking tends to deteriorate its quality. While this view is unwonted with
respect to people’s mother tongue, it is familiar from more recent work on second language
acquisition, as we will see in §
In Saussure 1916, a distinction is established between ‘langage’, ‘langue’ and ‘parole’.
One conception takes langage as the union of langue and parole and distinguishes the latter
two as the social and the individual side of the former:
En séparant la langue de la parole, on sépare du même coup : 1° ce qui est social de ce qui
est individuel ; 2° ce qui est essentiel de ce qui est accessoire et plus ou moins accidentel.
(p. 30)
Elle [la langue] est la partie sociale du langage, extérieure à l’individu, qui à lui seul ne
peut ni la créer ni la modifier ; elle n’existe qu’en vertu d’une sorte de contrat passé entre
les membres de la communauté. (p. 31)
From this characterization, linguistics has retained the notion of langue as a historical
tradition of speaking bound up with a certain culture, but generally hypostatized in structural
linguistics as a language system. That notion is part of all conceptions of linguistic
competence and will be articulated in §
As for the representation of that system in the individual, Saussure makes repeated
attempts at precision. On the one hand, langue is not abstract; it is actually represented in the
individual brain:
les associations ratifiées par le consentement collectif, et dont l'ensemble constitue la
langue, sont des réalités qui ont leur siège dans le cerveau. (ch. III)
la langue existe dans la collectivité sous la forme d'une somme d'empreintes déposées
dans chaque cerveau, à peu près comme un dictionnaire dont tous les exemplaires,
identiques, seraient répartis entre les individus (p.38)
“‘Faultlessly correct’, again, is here meant in terms of the linguist, who does not, in this case, apply
the standard of the language teacher. As my late father [Hans Conon von der Gabelentz, himself a
recognized linguist] used to say jokingly: ‘He speaks correctly who talks plainly/according to his
“Correct handling of one’s mother tongue happens unmindfully, the speaker not rendering account
to himself of the linguistic laws determining his speech.”
“language exists in the collective in the form of a set of imprints deposited in every brain, almost
like a dictionary all of whose identical copies would be distributed among the individuals”
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
On the other hand, what was just said is not sufficiently precise since what is in the individual
brain is not langue itself, but just an imperfect instantiation of it:
Si nous pouvions embrasser la somme des images verbales emmagasinées chez tous les
individus, nous toucherions le lien social qui constitue la langue. C’est un trésor déposé
par la pratique de la parole dans les sujets appartenant à une même communauté, un
système grammatical existant virtuellement dans chaque cerveau, ou plus exactement
dans les cerveaux d’un ensemble d’individus; car la langue n’est complète dans aucun,
elle n’existe parfaitement que dans la masse. (CLG, 30)
Again, speech (parole) is individual and concrete:
Dans la parole ... il n’y a rien de collectif, rien de plus que la somme des cas particuliers.
La parole est la somme de ce que les gens disent. (p. 38)
Thus, while the Cours de linguistique générale nowhere gets entirely precise on the matter,
we may, on a benevolent reading, infer that individuals differ in their command of the langue
that they share.
One of Saussure’s sharpest critics, Roman Jakobson (1984, especially § II), demonstrated
that Saussure is trying to distinguish langue and parole by two criteria which are in fact
independent: ‘social vs. individual’ and ‘virtual vs. actual’. However, parole is actually and
essentially social, too.
Thus, only the latter criterion is valid, and at the same time, the
distinction between langue and parole becomes clear-cut. On the other hand, the idea of
langue being virtual requires clarification, too. Taking it in the most concrete of possible
senses, it means that langue is an ability. This conception then becomes directly relevant to
our concern here.
3.1.2. Competence vs. performance
In Aspects of the theory of syntax, Chomsky introduces a distinction between what he terms
‘competence’ and ‘performance’:
Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener, in a completely
homogeneous speech-community, who knows its language perfectly and is unaffected by
such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of
attention and interest, and errors (random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of
the language in actual performance. ... [4] To study actual linguistic performance, we
must consider the interaction of a variety of factors, of which the underlying competence
of the speaker-hearer is only one. ...
We thus make a fundamental distinction between competence (the speaker-hearer's
knowledge of his language) and performance (the actual use of language in concrete
situations). Only under the idealization set forth in the preceding paragraph is
performance a direct reflection of competence. In actual fact, it obviously could not
directly reflect competence. A record of natural speech will show numerous false starts,
deviations from rules, changes of plan in mid-course, and so on. The problem for the
linguist, as well as for the child learning the language, is to determine from the data of
performance the underlying system he puts to use in actual performance. (Chomsky
Halliday (1978:38f) argues that if both langue and parole are social rather than individual-
psychological notions, then there is no ground for a distinction between competence and performance.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
In Language and mind, Chomsky restricts the notion of competence further as follows:
the technical term competence refers to the ability of the idealized speaker-hearer to
associate sounds and meanings strictly in accordance with the rules of the language. The
grammar of a language, as a model for idealized competence, establishes a certain
relation between sound and meaning … (Chomsky 1968:116)
In later work (1980), Chomsky introduces a distinction between ‘grammatical competence’
and ‘pragmatic competence’:
For purposes of enquiry and exposition, we may proceed to distinguish 'grammatical
competence' from 'pragmatic competence,' restricting the first to the knowledge of form
and meaning and the second to knowledge of conditions and manner of appropriate use,
in conformity with various purposes. Thus we may think of language as an instrument
that can be put to use. The grammar of the language characterizes the instrument,
determining intrinsic physical and semantic properties of every sentence. The grammar
thus expresses grammatical competence. A system of rules and principles constituting
pragmatic competence determines how the tool can effectively be put to use. (Chomsky
The importance of such a distinction for Chomsky’s overall conception of linguistic
competence is probably correctly assessed if one pays attention to the introductory hedge of
this quotation and to the modals that permeate it. In more recent work, ‘pragmatic
competence’ plays no role, and even ‘(grammatical) competence’ is replaced by ‘knowledge
of language’. From Chomsky 1986:3-13, the following conception emerges: The human mind
properly contains a component called the language faculty. The central component of the
latter is knowledge of language’. This is a state of the mind/brain, a “cognitive system”.
Besides the language faculty, the human mind comprises “performance systems” which
“access this information and put it to use” (Chomsky 2000:90). Some of the latter may be part
of the language faculty, others are not. Much importance is attached (1986:12) to
“distinguishing clearly between knowledge and ability to use that knowledge.”
There are several problems with such a conception. They have often been pointed out in
the literature, so that it suffices to comment briefly on them:
1. The notion of a ‘tacit knowledge’ contains a contradiction in terms.
The word ‘knowledge’ as it appears in the above quotations is not commonly applied to a
state of the mind that a person cannot make explicit or account for. Reacting to relevant
criticism, Chomsky (1980:69f) coined the neologism cognize to dub the kind of mental
control that we have of our native language: “'cognizing' is tacit or implicit knowledge”. This
problem will be taken up in § 3.1.4.
2. The construct of the ideal native speaker has no empirical correlate.
An empirical science tries to model a certain domain of the world by constructing a theory
whose concepts are defined in such a way that they may be operationalized. The object
covered by the theory in that fashion corresponds more or less closely to some field of
everyday experience that the society has an interest in understanding and controlling at a
scientific level. One of the criteria that the success of an empirical science is assessed by is
therefore to what extent it solves problems in that field of everyday experience, problems that
it has not created itself. That presupposes a certain degree of correspondence between its
constructs and some observable phenomena that matter to the social community.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
As may be seen from the above quotations (cf. moreover Taylor 1988:153), Chomsky’s
concept of competence alias knowledge of language does not refer to any ability of an
individual, but is rather based on the structural-linguistic concept of the language system
which (among other things) associates sound and meaning, and projects this onto an abstract
psychological or even neurological level where it is something that the ideal speaker-hearer
has internalized. The concept involves the various idealizations that Chomsky mentions and
can therefore not be operationalized (cf. § 2.2). It is, consequently, not a concept of an
empirical theory.
3. Chomskyan ‘linguistic competence’ is a static concept, while the linguistic competence of
actual human beings is dynamic.
Native competence develops not only in first language acquisition, but actually over the entire
lifespan of a person.
This is true of monolinguals, but even more of plurilinguals, who may
develop competence in another language to the detriment of what was their native language.
Moreover, second language competence develops in learners, and this is a central aspect of all
the activity surrounding second language learning and teaching in our society. To disregard its
dynamic character simply makes the resulting notion of ‘competence’ useless. This is, thus,
the second respect in which Chomskyan ‘linguistic competence’ is irrelevant to an empirical
4. The relation of the Chomskyan notion of competence to the fundamental concept of
ability is not clear.
Chomsky (1986:3-13), Canale & Swain (1980:7), Taylor (1988:149f)
and others insist on a
distinction between the native speaker’s competence and his ability to use the language. They
try to define the term ‘competence’ in such a way that it excludes ‘ability’ and gets restricted
to ‘knowledge’, more precisely, to the kind of knowledge Chomsky calls ‘cognizing’.
However, it has never been demonstrated that an ability is necessarily an ability to use a
certain knowledge and that therefore the concept of ability presupposes the concept of
knowledge. It suffices to consider the ability of singing to see the point. This is, then, the third
aspect of this notion of ‘competence’ that deprives it of any possible empirical correlate. In
arguing so vigorously for such a restricted concept of competence, the above authors say, in
effect, that it is irrelevant for an empirical linguistic science.
The same is already observed in Widdowson 1973:17: Reducing linguistics to the study of
langue/competence is “neither ontologically nor heuristically valid. It is not ontologically valid
because it misses the essential nature of language as a social phenomenon; and it is not heuristically
valid because it is not possible to discover a system which de Saussure calls homogeneous and
Chomsky calls well-defined either within the data of parole or within the intuitions of a representative
member of the speech community.”
People enrich their linguistic competence during their lifetime, and they reach different degrees of it
in all the relevant components and levels; cf. Coseriu 1988, ch. 3.3.9.
Taylor (1988:151) emphatically postulates a distinction between ‘knowledge’ and ‘ability to use
knowledge’. Since he nowhere says what the criteria for this distinction are, one can only suspect that
he must be playing with the polysemy of the word knowledge. If the necessary distinction between
procedural and reflective competence is made (see § 2.3), then it is clear that reflective competence
can and must be distinguished from the ability of using it. The same is, however, not true for
procedural competence, which is actually at the heart of linguistic competence.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
3.1.3. Communicative competence
In a set of publications starting with Hymes 1971 and 1972, Dell Hymes draws attention to
the fact that grammatical competence as defined (theretofore) by Chomsky is insufficient for
the individual to lead a useful linguistic life. The following is an oft-quoted passage:
There are rules of use without which the rules of grammar would be useless. Just as rules
of syntax can control aspects of phonology, and just as rules of semantics perhaps control
aspects of syntax, so rules of speech acts enter as a controlling factor for linguistic form
as a whole. (Hymes 1972: 278)
Hymes postulates a communicative competence that relates “to speaking as a whole”
(1971:16) and that embraces not only grammatical, but also pragmatic and sociolinguistic
This conception has been particularly fruitful in language teaching. Canale & Swain
1980, § 3.2 articulate the concept of communicative competence into components as follows:
1) grammatical competence: language system,
2) sociolinguistic competence:
a) sociocultural rules of use: appropriateness,
b) rules of discourse: coherence and cohesion of groups of utterances,
3) strategic competence: compensatory verbal and non-verbal communication strategies.
Component #3 is singled out especially with the second language learner in mind.
Systematically, however, the strategies in question may be subsumed under either component
#1 or #2.
3.1.4. Language competence
Coseriu 1988 puts forward a comprehensive theory of language competence
As its subtitle indicates, it is not based on the language system, but
instead on the activity of speaking (and understanding), thus sharing Hymes’s perspective.
Language competence is articulated at three levels:
1. general linguistic competence = elocutionary knowledge: speaking in consonance with
reason and world knowledge (Coseriu 1988, ch. 4.3.2),
2. language-specific competence = idiomatic knowledge: control of units and operations
of a particular language system,
3. discourse competence = expressive knowledge: use of such units and operations tuned
in with the linguistic and extralinguistic context.
In assessing the nature of the knowledge possessed by someone able to speak a language,
Coseriu invokes Leibniz 1684.
Leaving behind lower levels of cognition including
Coseriu 1985 is an English summary of some of the basic distinctions.
Coseriu’s examples are instructive: In understanding a proposition such as Goethe’s all theory is
gray, the competent hearer does not rush to a diagnosis of incongruent speaking and instead seeks a
metaphorical interpretation for the expression. Similarly, the interpretation of compounds such as
coffee-mill and windmill does start by construing a significatum by language-specific word-formation
rules. However, understanding the designatum (‘mill that grinds coffee’ vs. ‘mill driven by wind’)
involves world knowledge, which is independent of the particular language.
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm 1684, "Meditationes de cognitione, veritate et ideis." Acta Eruditorum
Lipsiensium nov. 1684, p. 537-542.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
perception, Leibniz reaches distinct knowledge (cognitio clara distincta), which grasps its
object by identifying its distinctive features and is, to that extent, well-founded. Within it, he
distinguishes between adequate and inadequate knowledge (cognitio clara distincta
adaequata vs. inadaequata). Adequate knowledge can reflect recursively on the distinctive
features and justify these, too, by analyzing them to the end, while inadequate knowledge is
limited to just identifying the features of its object. Building on this classification and
applying it to the mastery of a language by a native speaker, Coseriu moves on to say:
Es ist klar, daß das sprachliche Wissen ein Tunkönnen ist, d.h. ein Wissen, das sich an
erster Stelle im Tun, im Sprechen, manifestiert, und daß es beim Sprechen und Verstehen
ein vollkommen sicheres Wissen ist, aber ein Wissen, das entweder gar nicht begründet
wird oder für das höchstens erste unmittelbare Gründe angegeben werden, jedoch keine
Begründungen für die Gründe selbst. ... Da die hier gemeinte unmittelbare Begründung
eigentlich in jedem Fall möglich ist, wenn danach gefragt wird, so kann man das
sprachliche Wissen, insbesondere die Kenntnis der Sprache, als eine cognitio clara
distincta inadaequata einstufen. (Coseriu 1988: 210f.)
In terms of the distinction between procedural and reflective competence introduced in § 2.3,
a cognitio clara distincta inadaequata is a purely procedural competence which is not coupled
with a corresponding reflective competence. That does not, of course, exclude the possibility
that somebody may attain such reflective competence/cognitio clara distincta adaequata
without thereby losing his procedural competence. Procedural competence is, so to speak, the
basis of linguistic competence.
Now as was said in § 2.3, the notions of ‘procedural competence’ and ‘ability’ are
indistinguishable. Given this, the attempts reported in the preceding section of keeping
language ability separate from language competence have no empirical basis. Competence in
a language either comprises an ability or is not something that can be ascribed to speakers of a
language and is, instead, the linguist’s characterization of that ability (cf. Taylor 1988:151).
The latter, however, is clearly a piece of (hopefully recursive) reflective knowledge/cognitio
clara distincta adaequata which is outside the reach of most speakers and consequently not
the object of a linguistic description (but instead the object of linguistic methodology). In
other words: far from linguistic knowledge being the object of some ability to use it, it is the
other way round: linguistic knowledge is reflection on a certain ability.
3.2. The relativity of competence
As we opt for taking ‘linguistic competence’ as a construct of an empirical theory, it is
relative in several respects:
People knowing a certain language differ in the nature and extent of their relevant
competence. The parameters of variation comprise the two cognitive levels of competence
in general 2.3) as well as all of the components of linguistic competence in particular
“It is clear that linguistic knowledge is a ‘know to do’ [savoir faire], i.e. a knowledge manifesting
itself primarily in doing, in speaking, and that in speaking and understanding, it is a perfectly safe
knowledge [cognitio clara], but a knowledge which is either not founded at all or for which at most
primary, immediate bases can be indicated, but no bases for those immediate bases. Since the
immediate foundation intended here is possible whenever one is asked for it, linguistic knowledge,
especially the knowledge of language, may be categorized as a cognitio clara distincta inadaequata.”
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
that will be discussed in the following sections. Thus, linguistic competence is relative to
the individual who possesses it.
Like many other concepts such as beauty, piety and the like, the concept of linguistic
competence has evaluative components and is therefore relative to the evaluator, which
may, e.g., be a speech community. To this extent, the concept is culture-dependent. That
means that somebody may be considered competent in a certain language to a certain
extent in one community, but may be deemed to control the same language to a different
extent in another community.
Moreover, when the concept is used in an everyday fashion, it is also subjective with
respect to the person whose competence is at stake. As we shall see in greater detail in §, competence in a language is inextricably interwoven with communicative
competence. The latter, however, is something that develops in human interaction. In
other words, a given person may be competent to different degrees depending on the
communication partner he is interacting with.
Finally, the concept of linguistic competence is trivially relative to the language in
question. A person can be highly competent in one language and barely competent in
another language. While we are used to comparing a person’s competencies in different
foreign languages, we are not used to assessing his competence in his native language, let
alone to comparing the latter with his competence in some foreign language. These appear
to be two incommensurable notions. A person’s competence in his native language is
typically taken for granted, while he may be proficient in further languages to various
An empirical notion of competence will enable us to compare the competencies
of a person in his native and in further languages in a detached, objective way.
See Hymes 1971:7 and 1972:274 on ‘differential competence’ and Stern 1983:341-345. This is the
exact opposite of what Taylor (1988:153) claims for Chomskyan competence.– It is an interesting
issue to what extent a person is aware of the relativity of his language competence and can even assess
his own competence in a particular language correctly. The issue is addressed in Delgado et al. 1999.
The first question is answered with a clear ‘yes’ for both native and second languages, while the
second question receives a mixed and problematic answer in that study. Subjects performed better in
the self-assessment of their native competence than concerning their second-language competence.
That, however, may be due to methodological flaws. For one thing, native competence is typically
closer to perfection (thus, to a pole of the assessment scale), while second-language competence is
somewhere halfway, so that a guess at the former has a higher probability of coming close to the truth
than a guess at the latter. For another, it seems possible that the measure employed – the Woodcock-
Muñoz Language Survey – suffers from a ceiling effect (i.e. it provides sufficient spread at medium
levels, but does not differentiate sufficiently between highly competent speakers and instead above a
certain level of competence uniformly assigns the highest value).
To the extent that competence is a social capacity, X’s competence is something that appears as a
reflection of X’s behavior in the eye of Y who X is interacting with (Spitzberg 1988).
In certain schools, this is even an unquestionable credo. For instance, Montrul & Slabakova
(2003:352) open their discussion by saying: “L1 acquisition is complete, whereas L2 learners reach
their ultimate attainment at different points of the L2 acquisition route, and some even fossilize at
intermediate stages.”
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
3.3. Levels and components of linguistic competence
Linguistic competence is composite along the dimensions introduced in § 2. These will now
be considered in order.
3.3.1. Cognitive levels of linguistic competence
Linguistic competence involves the levels of consciousness discussed in § 2.3. These may be
summarized in a table of the same structure as Table 1:
level competence
faculty content
lower procedural language ability skills of speaking and understanding
reflective language knowledge
recursive reflection on language
Table 2. Procedural and reflective linguistic competence
Thus, while procedural linguistic competence comprises the ability to communicate and
comprehend the world by language, reflective linguistic competence comprises declarative
knowledge about how language is organized, what role it plays in human life, as well as how
and under what conditions it works. For instance, being able to speak the Bavarian dialect
besides one’s native variety presupposes a particular procedural competence. Knowing that it
is, in fact, the Bavarian dialect and further facts about it (such as that it uses the periphrastic
perfect in place of a simple past tense), presupposes some declarative knowledge. Speakers
differ in their reflective linguistic knowledge just as they differ in their procedural
competence. Higher-level declarative knowledge of a language is called linguistics.
Here a remark on the term linguistic is in order. In the historical period when structuralism,
including generative grammar, had its heyday in linguistics, the meaning of this term tended indeed to
be restricted to ‘concerning the formal structure of language’. When it was therefore recognized, from
the nineteen seventies on, what a restricted concept of language was behind that terminology, concepts
like ‘communicative’ and ‘pragmatic’ started to be opposed to ‘linguistic’. Since then, many a relevant
publication (e.g. Vollmer 1982:50) takes ‘linguistic’ to denote some restricted set of structural
phenomena corresponding more or less to ‘grammatical’ and, even worse, to ‘concerning declarative
knowledge of grammar’ (cf. the discussion in Canale & Swain 1980:5). ‘Communicative competence’
has been established (see § 3.1.3) as an ability concerning language use in real life situations, and is
not seldom opposed to some ‘linguistic competence’ which is of a purely academic interest to
linguists. In Canale & Swain 1980, § 3, the term ‘linguistic competence’ is dropped altogether, and
‘communicative competence’ is the most comprehensive concept. This terminology must be strongly
opposed because it is detrimental to the role of our discipline in interdisciplinary contexts. The
reduction of linguistics to structural linguistics was an error in its history that has been corrected. The
predicate ‘linguistic’ comprises everything that has to do with language, including (among other
things) its structural, communicative and pragmatic aspects.
A related remark is necessary on the German term linguistische Kompetenz. German distinguishes
between sprachlich ‘related to language’ and linguistisch ‘related to linguistics’. Consequently,
sprachliche Kompetenz is the competence related to language(s), whereas linguistische Kompetenz is
competence in linguistics. As is sufficiently well-known, English and the Romance languages do not
make such a distinction in their adjectives linguistic/linguistique etc. One of the consequences of the
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
18 Language ability Modes of linguistic communication
The modes of linguistic communication
are defined by the communication channels and the
directions – active, passive or both in which the speech act participant uses them. They are
summarized in Table 3. Mediation comes into play only where competence in more than one
language is at stake.
direction oral written
production speaking writing
reception listening reading
mediation interpreting translating
Table 3. Modes of linguistic communication
The distinction between the four or six modes underlies many classifications of second
language proficiency (or competence), e.g. ACTFL (ed.) 1983. On the one hand, they are, of
course, equally applicable to native competence. On the other, however, there are both
theoretical and methodological reasons for not attributing too much weight to this
classification. From the theoretical point of view, the modes of communication whether
based on the criterion of the direction or on the criterion of the channel – occupy a rather low
position in the conceptual hierarchy associated with ‘linguistic competence’:
They are aspects only of procedural, not of reflective competence.
They only concern the communicative, not the cognitive side of linguistic competence.
And even for the communicative side, they are relatively peripheral to the extent that they
are more based on the technical aspect of channel and direction than on the social nature
of communication.
From the methodological point of view, tests of a subject’s receptive competence meet with
problems of validity. While production (and the productive part of mediation) may be
observed and assessed directly, perception (and the perceptual part of mediation) may not.
Relevant tests therefore necessarily require some response to what the subject understood.
That, however, involves the productive mode. It is, therefore, difficult or impossible to lay
bare the receptive aspect.
Thus, while it is certainly useful for certain practical purposes to test and assess the
proficiency of a person for a particular mode of Table 3, the distinction may be less relevant
in assessing the overall competence of an individual in a language. For many other purposes,
reimport of much of linguistics from English into German is the use of the adjective linguistisch with
the meaning ‘related to language(s)’. As a consequence, for quite a few German authors (e.g. Vollmer
1982:19 et pass.), linguistische Kompetenz means ‘competence in language(s)’. This terminology is
unfortunate because it tends to blur the distinction between procedural and reflective linguistic
They are called ‘skills’ in Vollmer 1982:33 and ‘language activities’ in CEFR, § 2.1.3.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
it may be left to the person in which mode he wishes to demonstrate his competence in a
language. Fluency
Somebody performs an activity the more fluently, the higher the rate of component operations
performed and the more equal the rhythm in its performance. Fluency can be measured in
terms of the rate of relevant units per time unit and the evenness of this rate over a longer
stretch or in terms of the (low) number of hesitations. The concept of fluency by itself does
not imply correctness. Since anybody may achieve higher fluency in an activity by lowering
the standards of correctness, values of fluency become comparable only if the measure has
been calibrated against a correctness value to be stipulated.
Fluency speaks of ease of performance, i.e. of the absence of effort. This, again,
presupposes a high degree of automatization. Measuring fluency therefore means measuring
an aspect of procedural competence (cf. Fillmore 1979). This is the systematic position of
fluency in the overall classification of aspects of competence. This deserves to be pointed out
because there are models of language testing, e.g. Oller 1973:187, which put ‘rate and general
fluency’ as an item on the same dimension as the components of the language system of § below.
On the other hand, fluency is not assignable to either universal semiotic competence or to
language-specific competence (s. § 3.3.2) and instead is an aspect of both of them. That is to
say, the fluency with which somebody commands a certain language generally varies for the
languages he knows and therefore fluency is an aspect of a language-specific ability. And
on the other hand, this fluency is determined and limited by his universal semiotic ability,
since people differ in the fluency by which they perform operations of communication and
cognition, in general. Language knowledge and its relation to language ability
Language activity is partly conscious, involving free choice in selection and combination of
units, and partly subconscious, taking the form of automatized behavior. Successful linguistic
activity involves a balanced combination of the two modes of processing. Too little
automatization would imply hard deliberations and great effort in forming utterances; too
much automatization would imply idling that fails to achieve cognitive and communicative
goals. Therefore, the neural substrate of elocutionary competence (cf. § may be
equilibrium between consciousness and subconsciousness in processing language.
As explained in § 2.3, an individual may have reflective competence of something
without having procedural competence of it. In linguistic matters, this is the typical case of the
professional linguist who knows and can use all kinds of information about a certain language
that he may be totally unable to speak, while most native speaker who do have a procedural
competence in the language may lack that linguistic knowledge altogether. However, the
knowledge possessed by that linguist is not what is normally meant by ‘competence in a
language’ (let alone by ‘language ability’, ‘proficiency in a language’ or ‘mastery of a
language’). Instead, t he c o re a n d b as is o f c omp e t en ce i n a l ang u ag e i s
s k il l, i. e . p ro ced u ra l li ng uis t i c co mp eten c e. It should be clear that this
thesis is in sharp contrast with the concept of competence and the role given it in linguistics in
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
the literature reported in § 3.1.2, for which linguistic competence is not an ability and not
The relationship between language ability and language knowledge is dynamic in both
directions, as becomes evident in language acquisition. In first language acquisition, the child
first acquires procedural competence in his language. Depending on his intellectual capacity,
his linguistic activity may be controlled to different degrees by linguistic knowledge, enabling
him both to control his linguistic activity ‘online’ and to reflect on it ‘offline’. In the latter
case, reflective linguistic activity is called metalinguistic. Advanced levels of linguistic
knowledge are generally achieved in formal education. In this development, primary
procedural competence is secondarily overarched by reflective competence. The linguistic
competence of people who have had no access to formal education is often confined to
procedural competence. It is important to see that this entails not only lack of metalinguistic
reflection; it also entails narrower limits on the operations of selection and combination that
are constitutive of any language activity.
In guided second language acquisition (learning under teaching), it is often though not
necessarily – the other way round: The learner first acquires bits of the language system at the
level of reflective competence. This, however, does not render him capable of communicating
in the language. In order to achieve that, he must automatize, thus ‘proceduralize’ his
knowledge, essentially by practice. This is where fluency comes in as treated in §
The linguistic competence of people who have had too little opportunity to practise the
language they were taught is often confined to reflective competence.
Notions of linguistic competence that are one-sided in the dichotomy sketched here are
occasionally entertained. On the one hand, one may think that reflective knowledge of a
language is immaterial to the notion of competence in the language. However, a speaker who
cannot reflect on his language can, for instance, not teach it, at least not in a systematic way.
And on the other hand, many a language proficiency test
concentrates on testing reflective
knowledge, essentially knowledge of grammar. However, a person (including a linguist) who
cannot speak the language he knows everything about not only cannot solve any problem in
that language, but also lacks the experience that much reflective knowledge is based on.
Therefore, neither of the two individuals whose unfinished linguistic development has been
sketched is fully competent in the language in question.
The prime result of this consideration is therefore twofold:
a. A holistic notion of linguistic competence must not reduce to either language ability or to
knowledge of language, but must comprise both.
b. Any analysis of an individual’s linguistic competence must distinguish systematically
those two aspects.
The twofold nature of linguistic competence (just as many other competencies of the same
kind) has been co-responsible for much of the terminological variation we have seen before.
The terminological option of using ‘competence’ as the most general term follows Hymes
1971:16, Canale & Swain 1980 and others.
There is, however, an unfortunate aspect about
In the field of first language teaching, e.g. in Frentz 1996, the concept relevant here is the
metacognitive dimension of linguistic competence.
for instance, those offered on the website
Taylor (1988:166), in his zeal to keep the word competence free of any non-Chomskyan
associations, generously concedes usufruct of the term ‘proficiency’ to non-generativists who think
they need a concept not enjoying Chomsky’s blessing. It appears, instead, that the notion that he
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
this choice: As we shall see in more detail in § 3.3.2, there is a universal basis, largely inborn,
to any linguistic competence. Polyglossy, for instance, is to some extent a gift. Inborn aspects
of the language faculty would be aptly subsumed under the label ‘language ability’ (preferred,
inter alia, in Bachman & Palmer 1996), but less felicitously under the label ‘linguistic
3.3.2. Levels of generality in linguistic competence
Given the teleonomic premise of § 2.1, we presuppose two levels of generality in
systematizing linguistic competence, the levels of universal semiotic competence and of
language-specific competence. They may be compared as in Table 4.
competence level
universal semiotic language-specific
defined as ability to think and communicate by
some semiotic system mastery of a particular language,
including its system
based on language faculty socialization
how possessed mainly innate, partly acquired acquired
distinguishes man from animal speakers of different languages
Table 4. Levels of generality in linguistic competence
It must be emphasized that while the two levels of competence can be distinguished in any
human being, both are relative to the individual. That is, while there is no doubt a human
faculty for language, individuals differ in it just as they differ in other genetic properties.
However, since linguistic activity necessarily takes place in a specific language, no particular
piece of performance can be assigned to either of these levels. Rather than classifying bits of
linguistic activity or behavior, these levels differ in generality. Universal semiotic competence
provides the basis for any language-specific competence.
In the methodological perspective outlined in § 2.1, the highest-level question in
assessing the linguistic competence of a person concerns the quality and extent of his overall
semiotic competence from a functional point of view. To determine this, we ask for the
cognitive and communicative problems that he is able to solve, by whatever means. At a
lower level of the teleonomic hierarchy, the question is how well the person masters a certain
means, i.e. it concerns the quality and extent of his competence in a certain language, no
matter whether that is his only, first, second or third language. We will come back to this
methodological problem at the end of the following subsection. Universal semiotic competence
Linguistic activity may be paraphrased as making sense by means of perceptible symbols.
Universal semiotic competence therefore has a physiological and a mental side. The
physiological side comprises gifts, skills and habits that share the properties of clarity and
fluency as discussed in § Mode-independent physiological equipment concerns the
prefers to reserve the term ‘competence’ for is superfluous so that the term remains available for what
it used to mean before and continues to mean.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
neural organization of the language centers in the brain, in particular the memory with its
various divisions (working memory, short and long term memory).
Further subdivision
proceeds best by the criterion of mode as introduced in §
Speaking with a diligent pronunciation, without any speaking defects like stuttering,
lisping, mumbling, in a speed within tolerance limits, etc.
Writing orderly and legibly etc.
Understanding with high auditory differentiation by attentive listening and employing
perceptual strategies etc.
Reading speedily with good comprehension etc.
The mental side of universal semiotic competence may be called (with Coseriu 1988, ch.
4.3.2) elocutionary competence.
The mental capacities underlying elocutionary
competence are cognitive and social in nature. Cognitive competence comprises aspects such
as the following:
reasoning: learning from experience, adaptation to one's environment, control of different
cognitive domains, drawing inferences by relying on world knowledge (cf. § 3.1.4);
language-reflective (‘metalinguistic’) competence, language-awareness;
coherence and cohesion of thinking and of the discourse manifesting it;
creativity, musicality.
Social competence comprises abilities such as the following:
empathy, making contact, successful social interaction;
control of different communicative domains, rhetoric competence: adequacy to (linguistic)
context and (extralinguistic) situation;
control of conversational maxims.
All of these capacities underlie each language-specific competence that an individual
and are integrated in it. The relationship between the universal and the language-
specific levels has to be considered from a theoretical and from a methodological point of
From the theoretical point of view, the distinction is primarily a rational or notional
distinction. At the universal level, all of the above capacities are considered in total
Daneman & Carpenter 1980 shows that reading comprehension depends on working memory
capacity and that individuals differ considerably in this respect.
The term ‘communicative competence’ is frequently employed for this concept, but appears slightly
biased towards the social aspect of it, while neglecting its cognitive aspect. The term ‘communicative
language competence’ used in the CEFR (e.g. § 2.1) appears to be pleonastic and therefore confusing.
Some of the components here attributed to elocutionary competence are there 2.1.1) subsumed
under ‘general competencies’, others under ‘pragmatic competencies’.
Where language is concerned, social competence boils down to communicative competence. The
two main functions of language, cognition and communication, are distinguished at various junctures
in this article. Since neither of these two functions includes the other, it is not advisable to use the term
‘communicative competence’ as a cover term for linguistic competence, neither at the most general
conceptual level (as Hymes 1972 and his followers do) nor at the level of universal semiotic
competence (as Grosjean 1989:7f does). Cf. also fn. 31.
It seems plausible to assume that they essentially constitute what is commonly understood by
language aptitude (German Sprachbegabung).
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
independence from the particular language that the individual employs in achieving the goals
in question. The issue here is merely to what extent the individual is able to achieve them at
all. At the language-specific level, the very same capacities reappear as shaped by language-
and culture-specific conventions. At least some of them, like auditory differentiation,
musicality and empathy, clearly have an extralinguistic basis. Further rational analysis may
come to the conclusion that these are not integral components of universal semiotic
competence but instead prerequisites for it.
To the extent that these capacities are linguistic in nature, they can only be investigated as
bound up with a particular language. In a monolingual person, his entire universal linguistic
competence is absorbed by one language-specific competence. In a plurilingual person, the
two levels are kept apart more easily: On the one hand, there is a correlation between what he
achieves in L1 and what he achieves in L2, since neither can be better than what his language
faculty (and its extralinguistic bases) predispose him for. In this sense, his universal linguistic
competence comprises what is common to the set of competencies in the various languages
that he possesses.
On the other hand, a plurilingual person typically achieves different goals
in different languages. In that sense, his universal linguistic competence comprises the union
set of the cognitive and communicative goals he is able to achieve in his languages. Language-specific competence
Language-specific competence
is articulated by three cross-cutting dimensions:
a) Competence in the language system comprises the following components:
phonetics, phonology: orthophony and orthography;
grammar: morphology, syntax;
lexicon: vocabulary, lexical relations, word formation/neology;
discourse: language-specific norms of text structure.
b) Pragmatic competence concerns the ability to use language in different social contexts. It
would be subdivided into the various functional domains.
Hulstijn & Bossers 1992, postulating a distinction between language-specific knowledge or skills
and general language processing skills, argue on the basis of experimental evidence that the
performance of a subject on some task in L2 correlates significantly with his performance on the same
task in L1, and they ascribe this effect to “non-L2 specific factors”, which are here called more boldly
‘universal semiotic competence’. Similarly, one of the theses in Cook 1992 is: “The level of L2
proficiency in academic circumstances is related to the level of L1 proficiency.” (p. 573)
The distinction between universal and language-specific competence is rarely made in the relevant
applied linguistics literature (cf. Hulstijn & Bossers 1992:342). Consequently, the notion of language
competence as defined and articulated in Sasaki 1996:7 corresponds rather closely to language-
specific competence as conceived here. In particular, Sasaki’s subdivision into ‘organizational’ and
‘pragmatic competence’ is similar to the subdivision into language-system and variational competence
made here, except that several of the dimensions of variation are not accounted for there.– Certain
aspects of language-specific competence are traditionally designated in German as Sprachgefühl.
Competence in the language system is called ‘grammatical competence’ in Canale & Swain,
1980:29, ‘linguistic competencies’ in CEFR, § 2.1.2 and ‘idiomatic competence’ in Coseriu 1988, ch.
4.3.3. The first of these terms is too narrow, the second too wide (cf. fn. 31), and the third only hits
what is meant by relying on a wider sense of the word idiomatic than is current in the discipline.
This component is called ‘discourse competence’ in Canale & Swain 1980.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
c) Variational competence concerns the different dimensions of linguistic variation.
involves mastering the norm while maintaining flexibility in the varieties:
diaphasic: oral and written language,
styles and registers (appropriateness, euphony …),
diachronic: fashionable vs. current vs. obsolete linguistic properties.
The notion of the language system assumed here is expanded as compared with the
corresponding notion in structural linguistics and earlier conceptions of language ability, since
it includes the discourse level. As was seen in § 3.1.4, that level is singled out as ‘expressive
competence’ and opposed to competence in the language system (‘idiomatic competence’) in
Coseriu 1988. One of Coseriu’s (1985) examples of expressive competence is the knowledge
that while in English one says good morning, one does not say bon matin in French. This,
however, is necessarily a proper part of the ‘idiomatic’ competence in these languages.
Semantics is not singled out as a separate component in this hierarchy. Grammar, lexicon
and discourse each are conceived as semiotic notions, comprising a structural (“formal”) side
and a semantic side. Again, pragmatics knowledge of how to say what to whom in which
situation, i.e. the competence of speaking and understanding appropriately is not a level or
field disjoint from the other aspects of competence, but is an independent conceptual
dimension structuring language-specific competence in its own way. Importantly, pragmatics
brings about a subdivision into domains of language use. Such a domain is an area of the
world that the speaker interacts with and creates by language. It is constituted by sets of
speech situations defined in terms of those parameters that constitute a speech situation
(speech act participants, task, topic, context, channel).
Among many other things, the entire
set of speech acts which are conventional in a speech community comes in here.
Consequently, one of the criteria by which the kind and extent of somebody’s competence in
a language may be assessed is provided precisely by the domains of language use that he
controls in that language. This generates differences among the members of a speech
community, but also among the languages controlled by a plurilingual individual (cf.
Grosjean 1989).
The standard language in the sense in which High German is the German standard,
lingua toscana in bocca romana is the Italian standard, etc. – may be considered as one of the
varieties. It may then be possible to assess more objectively and adequately the competence of
speakers who do not control the standard variety, along the following lines: A speaker who
only knows Bavarian and a speaker who only knows High German have ceteris paribus the
same variational competence, whereas someone able to switch between these two varieties
has a superior variational competence; and likewise for the other dimensions of variation.
This component is called ‘sociolinguistic competence in Canale & Swain 1980.
The distinction between the oral and written channel is made in subsection It is related,
but not identical with the polar concept of diaphasic variation.
The theory of such cognitive-communicative domains concerns the ethnography of communication
(see, e.g., Saville-Troike 1982), but also (functionally oriented) universals research.
The above attempt at a systematization hides an important theoretical problem that will not be
addressed here: A person who knows more than one language has so many language-specific
competencies. However, a variety of a language, like a dialect or a sociolect, may have the same
theoretical status as a language. Then either the variational competence of a person should be
conceived as a set of competencies; or else the composite competence of a plurilingual person (as
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
3.3.3. Summary
Linguistic competence has been articulated along the following dimensions:
I. Cognitive levels:
1) language ability
a) modes of communication
b) fluency
2) language knowledge
II. Levels of generality and components:
1) Universal semiotic competence
a) Physiological ability
b) Elocutionary competence
i) Cognitive competence
ii) Social competence
2) Language-specific competence
a) Language system competence
b) Pragmatic competence
c) Variational competence
The two subdivisions I and II essentially cross-classify with each other. In other words, all of
the levels and areas of linguistic competence distinguished in subdivision II involve both
procedural and reflective competence (I.1 and I.2).
This classification has been arrived at deductively on the basis of current linguistic
theories. There is then again the empirical question of what is considered a competent speaker
in a speech community or by people in general. It may be expected that various subsets of the
capacities and skills enumerated will be weighted differently in different speech communities.
This question ought to be addressed by the procedure outlined in § 2.4. That will amount to a
rather complex and laborious research project.
4. Measuring linguistic competence
The present section is devoted to operationalizing the concept of linguistic competence
outlined so far in terms of a test. The next subsection discusses the methodological problems
of such an operationalization. Subsections 4.2 – 4.4 then present the design, the administration
and the results of a test that we actually implemented. The final subsection widens the horizon
by comparing this kind of test with an intelligence test.
4.1. Dimensions of measurement
In terms of the distinction introduced in § 3.3.2, we might either test the universal semiotic
competence of a subject or his language-specific competence. Grosjean (1989) argues that full
argued for in Grosjean 1989 and Cook 1992) should be conceived as part of his variational
competence. Coseriu (1988, ch. 5) deals extensively with this problem from a theoretical point of
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
justice to the universal semiotic competence (his ‘communicative competence’) of a bilingual
person is only done if one considers the union set of his linguistic competencies. At the same
time, it is legitimate to ask about the nature of the competence that a person has in any of his
non-native languages and compare this to the competence of a monolingual of the same
language. This will be done in § 4.4.
In assessing somebody’s proficiency in a foreign language, native competence has
generally been used as an absolute standard against which the proficiency of second-language
learners is to be measured. However, native speakers are proficient to different degrees, so
they cannot provide an absolute standard. In reality, the competence of a native speaker has to
be assessed by the same objective criteria as the competence of a non-native. These criteria
must be derived from the components defining linguistic competence and enumerated in §
3.3. The value reached by a subject on a certain parameter is compared with the norm. The
norm is, ideally, determined independently by the procedure outlined in § 2.4. As long as no
relevant research results are available, it must be determined in the usual way, viz. by
published authoritative work (grammars, dictionaries, treatises on stylistics and rhetoric
Much in linguistic competence amounts to knowledge of a set of objects, e.g. a set of
sociolects, of lexical items, of constructions etc. In these cases, competence can be measured
as the size of the set of relevant objects that a person knows. Otherwise, certain tasks must be
solved in limited time, so that the number and difficulty of items processed per time unit is the
Tasks to be solved in a test are deduced from the relevant criteria as just indicated, ideally
by combining all of the parameters of § 3.3 systematically. For instance, competence in the
lexical component of a language system is tested in all four modes speaking, listening,
writing, reading –, at the procedural and at the reflective level, and with respect to the various
dimensions of variation. Administering such a test would last a couple of hours.
Consequently, two things have to be done: a) devise tasks that test more than one ability at a
time, b) make sure that each of the systematic aspects is represented in at least one task,
although not necessarily cross-classifying with every other aspect.
In the context of our pilot study, we dodged the issue by referring to the Duden (Drosdowski et al.
1984, 1989). Although this is a common procedure when a norm of the German language is appealed
to, it is one of the points where our research needs to be put on a broader basis, in the spirit of § 2.4.
The literature on language test theory (e.g. Grotjahn 2000, § 5) makes a distinction between
competence tests and performance tests. This distinction is ill-conceived. The object of a test is by
definition the performance, not the competence of a subject (cf. § 2.1). At the same time, the goal of a
test is always an assessment of the subject’s competence. What is actually meant by the distinction
mentioned are two different things: a) the distinction between procedural and reflective competence
(cf. § 3.3.1); b) different degrees to which the test tasks resemble the real-life performance of the
competence in question.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
4.2. Test design
A pilot study was conducted at the University of Erfurt whose aim was the elaboration and
trial of a test of competence in one of the subject’s languages, in this case German.
The test
comprised 31 tasks, which were set up so as to cover the different facets of competence as
comprehensively as possible. Since it was just a pilot study with limited means at our
disposal, it suffered from a number of shortcomings which we hope to make up for in future
versions. In the present context, the consequence is that it is not worthwhile to report in detail
on preparation, administration and evaluation of the test. What follows is, therefore, only an
illustration, not a full account of our test.
A number of relevant parameters were insufficiently represented in the test tasks:
Since it was just a test of German competence, mediation competence remained out of
Physiological competence was only marginally considered, in test item 10 below.
Tasks involving the oral mode were small in number, with oral processing of lexicon and
grammar missing altogether. This is a flaw that our pilot study shares with foreign
language proficiency tests as they are most commonly conducted, again mainly for
practical reasons (both administration of the test and analysis of the subjects’ performance
is more laborious).
Domains of language use were not considered systematically.
If current research is to be put on a more solid methodological basis, these biases will have to
be eliminated.
In what follows, a subset of the 31 test items actually administered is presented for
illustration; the tasks themselves are in the appendix.
Table 5 classifies the test items by
some of the parameters that structure linguistic competence.
Subdivision II of § 3.3.3
provides the line headings of the table, while the first four modes of § appear in the
column headings. Subdivision I of § 3.3.3 provides the third dimension of Table 5, shown by
shading: items testing reflective competence have a shaded background; the others concern
procedural competence. Some of the test items belong to more than one category.
The test was administered and evaluated by the participants of the seminar in fn. 1: Maria Gimpel,
Jana-Iren Hartmann, Marion Kraushaar, Andreas Kubitza and Afet Nabiyeva. It was analyzed with
statistical methods by Jennifer Ullrich.
17 of the tasks are not enumerated here and are not reproduced, but only summarized in the
appendix. This is done for a variety of increasingly uninteresting reasons: they doubled tasks presented
here, they did not differentiate well between subjects, they involved sound recordings or colored
pictures not reproducible here, they would take too much space here.
Charts of this structure have been in use at least since Harris 1969:11.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
oral written
competence passive:
listen active:
speak passive:
read active:
elocutionary 1 2 3
4, 10 5
specific system grammar 6 7
lexicon 8 9
discourse 10 11 12 13
style 14 14
Table 5. Test items of language competence test
These tasks are designed to specifically test the following abilities:
Elocutionary competence:
(1) Oral formulation of a coherent text.
(2) Drawing of inferences from reading a text.
(3) Understanding the pragmatics of a communication situation and acting appropriately in
pragmatic terms.
Language-specific competence:
(4) Hearing knowledge of the native phoneme inventory.
(5) Knowledge of native phonotactic patterns.
(6) Identification of deviations from the grammatical norm in written texts.
(7) Active knowledge of inflection patterns.
(8) Passive lexical knowledge.
(9) Active lexical knowledge.
(10) Understanding text under bad phonetic conditions.
This involves many different skills
at once, among them auditory skills, knowledge of collocations and inferencing.
(11) Appropriate use of suprasegmental features belongs both to elocutionary competence
and to language-specific phonetic and discourse competence.
(12) Text understanding under conditions of low redundancy, i.e. the exploitation of the
linguistic context and of world knowledge in understanding.
(13) Formulation of a coherent argumentative written text. The number of arguments and the
use of appropriate connectives are evaluated.
(14) Recognition and active control of stylistic variation in the lexicon.
Since most of the tasks are solved by writing, there were no separate tasks of orthography,
and instead the orthography observed in the solution to the test tasks at hand were examined.
Similarly, the texts produced by subjects were also scanned for grammatical mistakes.
Auditory understanding despite background noise was used as a test, i.a., in Oller & Streiff 1975.
This is a cloze test of the kind that has been used in language testing since Oller 1973.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
Some of the above tasks will be familiar from intelligence tests or language proficiency
others are novel. The overall innovation here is to define the whole set on a systematic
4.3. Test administration
20 native speakers and 20 non-native speakers of German participated as test subjects. All 40
were residents of the city of Erfurt, Germany. Data for the native speakers are as follows:
They were between 20 and 35 years of age, most of them students of Erfurt universities, seven
of them male.
All of them knew at least one foreign language, mostly English. Working on
the test took the women 56 min, the men 68 min at an average. The non-native speakers were
between 21 and 30 years old, all of them students of Erfurt universities, five of them male.
They were native speakers of 13 different languages and had been in Germany for 1 15
years. Average test duration was 90 min.
It goes without saying that a higher number of subjects will be necessary to validate the
test and to verify the results. Among the findings resulting from this pilot study, some are
nevertheless statistically significant. These will briefly be discussed here.
4.4. Test results
The first thing to be noted in the statistic evaluation of the results is a significant correlation
among almost all of the test items (most at 0.01 level, the rest but one at the 0.05 level). That
simply means that these tasks measure essentially the same thing. This does not, of course,
render a factor analysis superfluous, which shows that some of the tasks are functionally more
similar than others.
Table 6 summarizes the percentages of tasks solved by the subjects in the entire test.
achievement native
lowest in sample 60 39
highest in sample
83 72
average 74 55
Table 6. Mean percentage of tasks solved
Test items similar to some of the above may be found, inter alia, in Acker 2001.
One of the German subjects was legasthenic and indeed scored low on most of the items. This once
more underlines the necessity of devising a linguistic competence test that values oral competence (at
least) as highly as writing competence, and casts doubt on the validity of a test of linguistic
competence all of whose test items are presented in writing. Cf. also Vollmer 1982:49 and Grotjahn
2000, § 9.
Thus, at this level of generality, there is no reason to worry about such questions as “what the cloze
test exactly measures” (Vollmer 1982:54). The correlation among the results of the different tests is
sufficient reason to take them as empirically valid for the construct from which they were, albeit
informally, deduced.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
Thus, for the native speakers, average performance on the test was at 74%, in the sense that a
total of 100% items were theoretically solvable, of which subjects solved 74% at an average.
Again, the average performance for non-native speakers was at 55%. The two subjects with a
score of 39% had been speaking German for two years, while the person who scored 72% had
been speaking German for 13 years.
In the native speaker sample, four subjects, or 20%, had lower scores than the best non-
native speaker. And again, in the non-native speaker sample, 8 subjects, or 40%, had better
scores than the weakest native speaker. There is, thus, considerable overlap between the two
Although this is only a limited pilot study, there are some significant results:
The native speaker sample showed a normal distribution around the average.
In the non-native speaker sample, there is a significant correlation between duration of
exposition to the language and degree of competence, and consequently no normal
There are enormous differences of native language competence in the sample and, one
may extrapolate, in a population.
Although foreign language speakers expectably show lower scores than natives at an
average, good second language speakers reach levels of competence that are clearly
superior to the levels reached by bad native speakers, while there is also a sizable portion
of native speakers who do not score better than good non-native speakers.
component native foreign
phonetics / phonology
61 34
lexicon 63 37
discourse 67 55
grammar 84 56
orthography 97 95
total competence 74 55
Table 7. Native and foreign competence in constitutive components
In the experiment reported in Birdsong 1992, overlap between the deviances of the native and non-
native groups is even larger. Similarly, Montrul & Slabakova (2003:382), in an experiment concerning
mastery of the Spanish perfective-imperfective contrast, find no difference between native and near-
native (i.e. flawless second-language) speakers.
There was a noticeable difference between the sexes: the average for male speakers was 69%, for
female speakers, it was 80%. Given the relatively small size of the sample, no conclusions may be
based on it. It does, however, correspond to known results of intelligence tests, where female subjects
generally score higher in verbal cognition, while male subjects score higher in spatial cognition.
The same is not so remarkable for non-native speakers. Trivially, a normally-gifted person may have
a competence of 0% in a foreign language, while competence in his native language will be closer to
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
Table 7 presents the average percentages that each of the two groups of subjects attained in
each of the five components in which the test items were sorted.
A number of observations
may be made here:
In either of the two columns, performance in the five components considered differs
considerably. At this point of our investigation, nothing can be made of these differences.
They are just a consequence of the degree of difficulty of the tasks that we designed.
Moreover, as already mentioned, the number of orthographic and grammatical mistakes made
per number of written words in the test was taken into account; and that yielded better results
for all of the subjects than their performance on the test questions themselves. This explains
the almost perfect scores in orthography and is co-responsible for the relatively high scores in
grammar. Thus, it must not be concluded from Table 7 that, e.g., discourse competence (of an
individual or a group) is principally better than phonetic/phonological competence.
While the competence profile over the five components is, thus, an artifact of our specific
test items, one thing remains remarkable: In relative terms, the profile is the same for native
and for non-native speakers. Now that is an effect that is not explicable by our specific test
items and must be considered significant. It means, essentially, that the internal structure of
competence in one’s native language is like the internal structure of one’s competence in a
foreign language.
These results lend support to the hypotheses
that there is unified concept of linguistic competence, applicable to native and non-native
speakers alike (cf. Stern 1983:346),
and that consequently competence in one’s first and one’s further languages may be
reliably assessed by the same kind of test.
On the basis of this investigation, there is no reason why a linguistic theory should attribute
special status to the notion of ‘competence of the native speaker’ (as opposed to non-native
competence), let alone consider it as its goal to model that notion.
4.5. The language competence quotient
In cognitive psychology, intelligence has been defined as a certain capacity of the mind, and
the intelligence quotient (IQ) has been defined as a measure of the degree to which a person
possesses that capacity. On the basis of the observed normal distribution of the behavior
measured by an intelligence test, a default value of 100 is stipulated to reflect the mean test
score for all members of an age group. An IQ of more than 100 then represents an intelligence
above the average, and conversely for a value below 100.
Most intelligence tests include and rely on linguistic competence, some exclude it. In
intelligence tests with a more or less strong linguistic test component, the instructions, too, are
Item 14 of Table 5 was subsumed under lexicon; and the component ‘orthography’ of Table 7 was
added as explained before.
There are, to be sure, typical differences between native and non-native competence, verified in
research that heeds other distinctions. For instance, Delgado et al. 1999 find their subjects to be better
at the oral mode in their native language, while they may be better at the written mode in a second
language. Cf., however, §
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
given verbally.
For instance, the HAWIE-R (Tewes 1991) consists of a verbal part,
comprising six tests, and a practical part, comprising five tests. The verbal part is called such
because its tasks are to be solved verbally. At least one of these, however, is specifically
linguistic in nature, viz. a vocabulary test. And it is just this one test, among the whole set of
eleven, which correlates most highly with the overall intelligence quotient.
This alone is sufficient evidence for the assumption that a Language Competence
Quotient (LQ) can be defined much like the IQ has been defined. In our pilot study, average
performance on the test by native speakers was at 74,4%. Setting the average LQ of 100 at
that value, the LQs of our native speakers were between 80 and 112.
These are values
familiar from intelligence tests, which may be taken to indicate that the general approach is on
the right track.
In the literature devoted to analyzing the facets of linguistic competence/proficiency,
there is widespread, although not unanimous
consensus that intelligence in general is not
disjoint from linguistic competence. This issue has both empirical and theoretical interest. The
empirical problem is to what extent linguistic capabilities like those investigated in our pilot
study correlate, in individuals, with non-linguistic capabilities such as those tested, e.g., in the
practical part of the HAWIE-R or in completely language-free intelligence tests like the
TONI-3 (Brown et al. 1997). The theoretical issue is whether our (“occidental”) concept of
intelligence necessarily includes linguistic aspects. And if it does, is all of linguistic
competence an aspect of general intelligence, or only certain components of it, for instance
only reflective linguistic competence?
5. The linguistic competence of linguists
From antiquity up to modern times, a grammarian was somebody who controlled the grammar
of his language, which enabled him to serve as a model for people who strove for standard
performance, and to teach others grammar. Underlying the grammar was a norm, and the
norm was self-perpetuating in that the grammarian acquired its mastery and then represented
it for further generations. There was an understanding in the society about who represented
the norm. This rendered a justification of the norm unnecessary; the norm derived its validity
from its existence.
Some very simple intelligence tests, e.g. the online test offered on
(16.08.2006), concentrate on just two facets of intelligence: linguistic and mathematical abilities. As
for linguistic abilities, focus is often on universal semiotic competence as manifested in the
understanding of concepts, and on reading competence as manifested, e.g., in the manipulation of
letters. For instance, subjects are required to identify the odd man out in a lexical field or to spell
words backwards. Two objections must be raised here:
a) To the extent that linguistic tasks are selected arbitrarily from among the system of abilities and
skills constituting linguistic competence, the intelligence test is ill-founded.
b) The extent to which linguistic competence is interdependent with intelligence is an open (theoretical
and empirical) issue. To the extent that they are independent (so that linguistic competence can be
factored out of intelligence), mathematical competence provides a very narrow concept of intelligence
Again, women scored significantly higher than men, with an average of 107 as against 93.
“foreign language proficiency is largely independent of the learner’s general intelligence” (Vollmer
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
Linguists have inherited this status and self-appraisal of the traditional grammarian. The
linguist embodies the competence of the speech community. He is the living “ideal speaker-
hearer”. Therefore, when data of the language, including sentences and grammaticality
judgements, are called for, he needs not do any empirical research, but can rely on
introspection. This picture of the linguist is still wide-spread both inside the discipline and in
the general public.
If instead of indulging in idealizations, one takes an unbiased look at empirical reality,
one realizes that linguists command their native language (or any other language, for that
matter) to different degrees just like any other member of their speech community. The extent
to which a linguist knows a language is amenable to empirical test just like the linguistic
competence of any other language user. It would be an interesting piece of research to
compare the average linguistic competence of a sample of linguists with the average linguistic
competence of their population; the results will doubtless be revealing.
They may contribute
to dispelling, once for all, the myth of the linguist as the incarnation of the ideal native
speaker. And they may contribute to bringing linguistics closer to the status of an empirical
6. Conclusion
The approach of this paper was both theoretical and empirical. In the first part, a conception
of linguistic competence was articulated which renders both the formulation of falsifiable
hypotheses concerning various aspects of this notion possible and may be operationalized in
the form of language proficiency tests. In the second part, such a test was demonstrated. Its
results confirm some of the central theses of the paper, which are summarized here:
1. Linguistic competence is an important notion of any theory of language, but one with an
empirical basis. That implies that any idealizations must be dropped, and instead linguistic
competence must be taken as something that is subject to variation, just as most other
linguistic phenomena. In particular:
1.1. Members of a speech community differ in their linguistic competence. Similarly,
whole speech communities may differ in it (cf. Everett 2005). Such issues have been
treated almost as taboo in linguistics; instead, they are open empirical questions.
1.2. A given individual may be competent in different languages to different degrees.
Competence in one’s native language and competence in foreign languages do not
differ in essence, but usually just in degree. They are comprised by the same general
concept of linguistic competence.
1.3. An adequate notion of linguistic competence embodies linguistic proficiency as it has
been approached in applied linguistics over more than half a century now, provided
the latter is suitably refined and put on a solid theoretical basis.
2. The notion of linguistic competence has to be articulated in terms of levels, domains,
components, dimensions, modes etc. Competence in the sense of mastery of the grammar
of a language is only part of the linguistic competence of a person.
Some examples of imperfect linguistic competence of linguists are given in Coseriu 1988:198-200.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
3. Empirical research turns up enormous differences in the linguistic competence of
members of a speech community, corresponding both in kind and in extent to differences
observed in the administration of intelligence tests to larger populations.
4. Empirical research in linguistic competence will turn up correlations among certain parts
or facets of it. The issues of a separate language faculty, of modularity of linguistic
competence and such like may thus be approached by empirical research.
Finally, it should be noted that a theoretically well-founded notion of linguistic competence is
the prerequisite for a sound notion of linguistic aptitude. Both of these notions are
instrumental in the assessment of individuals’ abilities and prospects that are actually
performed in our societies. Linguistic science there has a responsibility to the society.
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Pilot study test tasks
The following is a sample of the test items administered in the Erfurt pilot study. The object
language is German. For use in the present publication, the formulation of the task has been
translated into English.
1. Look carefully at the following cartoon for 10 seconds! Then give the leaf back and
tell the story in a coherent oral text! You have got 1 minute for it.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
2. First read the text and then decide whether the statements below are true or false, by
marking the check boxes.
Carpendale junior gewinnt Tanzshow
Das letzte Wort hatten die Zuschauer. Im Finale der Tanzshow "Let's dance" hievten
sie Wayne Carpendale und seine Partnerin Isabel Edvardsson auf den Siegerthron -
gegen den Wunsch der Jury.
Köln - Die Jury hatte die Schauspielerin Wolke Hegenbarth und ihren Partner Oliver Seefeldt
einstimmig auf Platz eins gesehen. "Es ist einfach unglaublich. Dass ich den Titel hole, hätte
ich nie zu träumen gewagt", erklärte Carpendale nach seinem Sieg. Seine Freundin Yvonne
Catterfield und sein Vater Howard Carpendale unterstützten ihn von den Zuschauerrängen
Die 25-jährige Wolke Hegenbarth nahm die Niederlage sportlich: "Natürlich hätte auch ich
gerne den Titel geholt, aber die Zuschauer haben anders entschieden, und das akzeptiere ich."
Vier Mal mussten die beiden Tanzpaare in der letzten Sendung der Staffel gegeneinander
antreten. Dann gab zunächst die Jury, in der auch Eisprinzessin Katharina Witt vertreten war,
ihr Urteil ab. Anschließend konnten die Zuschauer abstimmen.
Aussage Wahr Falsch
Die Jury wählte Carpendale junior und dessen Partnerin auf Platz 1.
Wayne hatte fest mit dem Sieg gerechnet.
Katharina Witt entschied für Wolke Hegenbarth und deren Partner.
Carpendale senior verfolgte die Show vor dem Fernsehapparat.
3. Complete the dialogue, writing one sentence per line!
Am Reklamationsschalter
Verkäufer: Guten Tag. _________________________________________________?
Kunde: Guten Tag. Ich möchte gern diese Hose umtauschen.
Verkäufer: _________________________________________________________?
Kunde: Sie passt mir nicht richtig, sie ist zu eng.
Verkäufer: __________________________________________________________?
Kunde: Nein, den habe ich verloren.
Verkäufer: Dann kann ich die Hose leider nicht zurücknehmen.
Kunde: Aber mir wurde gesagt, dass ___________________________________.
Verkäufer: Normalerweise geht das auch, aber nur mit Kassenbon.
Kunde: _________________________________________________________?
Verkäufer: Gar nichts, da sind mir die Hände gebunden.
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
4. Each of the words now being played to you contains at least one sound that does not
occur in German. Underline the corresponding letters, paying attention to foreign
sounds, not to foreign orthography!
B a s e b a l l
C h a n s o n
J o u r n a l
N o t e b o o k
S t e a k
T h r i l l e r
T i m b r e
5. Among the following invented words, underline those that could be German words!
Kest, kmeulen, Runft, Zaule, Tscheit, Pfinnig, Strampf, branken, plenn, schlöcht, Tblissi
6. Read the sentences, underline the grammatical mistakes they contain and correct
these in the spirit of the author and with minimal changes!
a) Die ständig waltenden Gesetze oder Faktoren der Selektion ergeben sich durch die
Fortpflanzung und der damit verbundenen Vererbung.
b) Wenn Du das Gesicht dieser Hochschule mitgestalten willst, dann bewerbe dich bis zum
13. Mai!
c) Die Verarbeitung solcher sprachlichen Strukturen sind einfacher zu bewältigen.
d) Insofern sind sie sich also den Verwendungsregeln von Sprache größtenteils bewusst.
e) Dank dieses Automaten lassen sich endlos Milchschaum für Cappuccino oder Latte
Macchiato herstellen.
f) Niemand außer du gibt mir Kraft genug, das alles durchzustehen.
7. Supply the missing verb forms in the following sets!
Example: sprechen – ich sprach = sehen – ich sah
a) sprechen du sprachst = bergen du __________
b) sagen wir sagten = fechten wir __________
c) sprechen es hat gesprochen = gelten es __________
d) sagen ihr hattet gesagt = abbiegen ihr __________
e) sagen sag! = treten __________!
f) sprechen sie spreche = geben sie __________
g) sprechen ihr sprächet = genesen ihr __________
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
8. What do the following words mean? Underline the correct answer!
Droge a)
Betäubungsmittel b)
Reitertruppe c)
Apotheke d) Getreide
Koch b)
Frühstück c)
Krankheit d) Gebäckstück
Spindel a)
Spirale b)
Winde c)
Kreisel d) Spinnwerkzeug
Bluff a)
Kissen b)
Irreführung c)
Kartenspiel d) Textilien
Schreiner b)
Tischler c)
Dreher d) Werkbank
Pendant a)
Lehrer b)
Angelegenheit c)
Medikament d) Gegenstück
9. Continue the word pairs analogically with existent German words!
Metzger : Fleischer
Etage : Stockwerk
Samstag : ___________
Fahrstuhl : ___________
senkrecht : ___________
Orange : ___________
Bücherei : ___________
Telefon : ___________
Computer : ___________
bevor : ___________
10. Four increasingly high-noise broadcasts will be played to you. Listen carefully and
write down the last sentence of each transmission.
1. ____________________________________________________________________
2. ____________________________________________________________________
3. ____________________________________________________________________
4. ____________________________________________________________________
11. Read out the text on white background!
Goethe und Schiller
Wum: Wim, ich will mit dir spielen!
Wim: Aber gewiss doch, mein Kleiner. Was wollen wir denn spielen?
Wum: Frag mich was… frag mich was!
Wim: Was fragen… hmmm…
Wum: Was Schweres!
Wim: Also gut! Es ist klein, ziemlich frech und hat lange schwarze Ohren…
Wum: Äh… Goethe und Schiller!
Wim: Aber Wum, es kann doch immer nur einer sein!
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
Wum: Ach so, dann Schiller!
Wim: Warum?
Wum: Weil… wenn man fragt, wer das war – dann war das immer Schiller!
Wim: Aber Schiller hatte doch keine langen schwarzen Ohren!
Wum: Ich habe ja auch erst gesagt: Goethe!
12. Fill in the gaps in the following text!
Zur Präsentation sei_______ ne________ Films "Volver" bra_______ Regisseur Pedro
Almodóvar vie_____ Frauen mit – z______ Freude der Fotogr_________. Doch auch d_____
Krit________ waren zufrieden. Es si______ die Fra______, die in Cannes die mei_______
Bli_______ auf sich z________. Die Schönh________ im Abendkleid a_____ d_____
rot_____ Teppich we_______ tausendfach fotograf______, die kurv_______ Möchtegern-
Sternchen a_______ Strand lass_____ si______ willig begaff________.
13. Read the text and then discuss the following issue in written form:
In your opinion, did the policemen act correctly or incorrectly?
You have got 4 minutes.
Am 1. April 2005 raste ein Mann mit einem gestohlenen Laster durch Südthüringen. Die
Polizei versuchte vergeblich den Mann bei seiner Amokfahrt zu stoppen. Um eine
Straßensperre zu errichten, forderte die Polizei einen 55-jährigen LKW-Fahrer aus dem
Sauerland auf, seinen Laster quer auf die Fahrbahn zu stellen. Als der Mann aus dem LKW
ausstieg, wurde er von dem Amokfahrer erfasst und überrollt. Der 55-jährige kam dabei ums
14. In the following sentences, replace the stylistically deviant word by a neutral High-
German word!
a) Erna ist schon wieder trächtig. ____________________________
b) Ernas Köter bellt immer, wenn sie das Haus verlässt. _________________________
c) Erwin empfing von Erna eine Ohrfeige. ____________________________
d) Der Agrarökonom mistet den Schweinestall aus. ____________________________
In addition to the test items presented above, the test contained the following tasks:
Christian Lehmann, Linguistic competence
In listening to records of sentences, identify the one sound not pronounced according to
the norm. (two items)
Construct words from a set of morphemes.
Given four letters, construct grammatical and sensible four-word sentences such that the
words begin with these letters, maintaining the sequence of the letters.
Given a four letter abbreviation, invent noun phrases abbreviated by it.
From four simple sentences given, construct a sensible complex sentence.
Supply more examples to a sequence of words of a lexical field.
Supply more examples to a sequence of words of a derivational family.
In the sentences given, insert the correct subordinating conjunction into the gap. (two
Couple the word given with its opposite.
Define the meaning of the verb verdächtigen (‘suspect’).
Define the meaning of Schloss (castle; lock), describing its function.
Put the nouns presented into the plural.
From the sentence given, generate all grammatical transforms by permutation.
You are presented with pictures of a speech situation and an utterance of one of the
interlocutors. Specify the reaction he expects from the other.
Presented with an example of unsuccessful communication, identify the problem.
Specify a synonym for each of the idiomatic phrases presented.
Presented with a set of sentences, order them so that they form a sensible text.
... This study is anchored on the language competence theory espoused by Lehmann (2009) and the teaching competence theory posited by the Australian Department of Education and Training (2004) and the Department of Education's National Competency-Based Teachers Standards (2006). ...
... A more powerful target must be endeavored and that is to provide a grammar capable of evaluating the adequacy of different counts of competence for a better understanding of the human mind. Lehmann (2009) added that the grammar of the language characterizes the instrument, determining intrinsic, physical and semantic properties of every sentence. The grammar, thus, expresses a system of rules and principles constituting pragmatic competence that determines how the tool can effectively be put to use. ...
... A person's linguistic competence is part of his personality. On the other hand, it is certainly one of those personal competencies that are highly relevant to professional life (Lehmann, 2009). ...
Full-text available
This study sought to determine the correlation between teachers’ linguistic competence and students’ linguistic competence as well as between teachers’ teaching skills and students’ linguistic competence. The researcher made use of descriptive correlation to determine the relationship among the variables. Fishbowl sampling was utilized to determine public high schools for the study, and multistage sampling was used to determine the student respondents using the Raosoft sample size calculator wherein out of 1,500 students, 306 students were picked. For teacher respondents, the total population of ten (10) grade eight English teachers coming from the four select public high schools comprised the group of teacher respondents. The findings revealed that there is a significant relationship when teachers’ lesson management, assessment, and overall teaching skills were correlated with students’ linguistic competence; furthermore, in terms of teachers’ linguistic competence and students’ linguistic competence, the teachers’ grammar, textual knowledge, and overall linguistic competence show a strong correlation with students’ linguistic competence. The multiple regression analysis also revealed that teachers’ grammar, overall linguistic competence, classroom climate, and assessment predict students’ linguistic competence. With the consistency of the results on teachers’ grammar and assessment as correlates and predictors of students’ linguistic competence, a training design on grammar review based on communicative language teaching approaches with embedded authentic assessment is proposed to address the problem of students’ linguistic competence.
... I will use the term "communicative competence" here to include any kind of systematic, language-related knowledge beyond grammatical competence in the Chomskyan sense that helps an interlocutor recover a speaker's or writer's intended meaning. This includes but is not limited to pragmatic principles, knowledge of idiomatic meanings, and meta-knowledge of how language is processed by an interlocutor (see e.g., Hymes, 1972;Coseriu, 1985;Lehmann, 2007;Rickheit et al., 2008 for discussion). ...
... It is not surprising that readers construct plausible meanings by tapping into their knowledge about the real world, given that world knowledge is also habitually recruited in compositionally well-formed sentences (e.g., Cook & Guéraud et al., 2005;Isberner & Richter, 2013;Cook & O'Brien, 2014;. The systematic contribution of world knowledge to meaning implies that the use of this particular source of information is a kind of communicative competence (Coseriu, 1985;Lehmann, 2007;Fortuin, 2014). It is also broadly in line with the error-correction account of Zhang et al. (2023), which assumes that readers attempt to reconstruct the intended meaning of the depth charge sentence, though it remains unclear why the reconstruction process would be affected by linear order. ...
Full-text available
The depth charge illusion occurs when compositionally incongruous sentences such as No detail is too unimportant to be left out are assigned plausible non-compositional meanings (Don’t leave out details). Results of two online reading and judgment experiments show that moving the incongruous degree phrase to the beginning of the sentence in German (lit. “Too unimportant to be left out is surely no detail”) results in an attenuation of this semantic illusion, implying a role for incremental processing. Two further experiments show that readers cannot consistently turn the communicated meaning of depth charge sentences into its opposite, and that acceptability varies greatly between sentences and subjects, which is consistent with superficial interpretation. A meta-analytic fit of the Wiener diffusion model to data from six experiments shows that world knowledge is a systematic driver of the illusion, leading to stable acceptability judgments. Other variables, such as sentiment polarity, influence subjects’ depth of processing. Overall, the results shed new light on the role of superficial processing on the one hand and of communicative competence on the other hand in creating the depth charge illusion. I conclude that the depth charge illusion combines aspects of being a persistent processing “bug” with aspects of being a beneficial communicative “feature”, making it a fascinating object of study.
... Based on the theory of Chomsky N., we have respect to these mechanisms or processes which are within the name of "linguistic competence", and its study may be seen as the purpose of linguistic theory (Chomsky, 1957). Also language competence is also viewed at three levels (Lehmann, 2006): 1. general linguistic competence that is fluent, declamatory intellection (speaking in accordance with motives and world knowledge), 2. language-specific competence that is idiomatic intellection (authority over units and activities of a given system of language), 3. argumentative competence that is expressive intellection (the appliance of such units and activities efficient about the philological and nonlinguistic context). So linguistic knowledge is reflection on certain ability. ...
... Coincidently, native speakers are experts at different rates, so they cannot contribute to an absolute degree quality. Substantively, the competence of a language speaker has to be evaluated by the same standard characteristics as the competence of a non-native one (Lehmann Christian, 2006). A lot in linguistic competence comes down to knowledge of a scope of items, e.g. ...
... According to the terms of Chomsky, "competence" is the speaker-hearer's knowledge of his language and "performance" is the actual use of language in concrete situations. Therefore, performance can not be a direct reflection of competence in most practical cases [1]. From the perspective of this distinction, he supported the conception of Humboldtian, which considered underlying competence as a system of generative processes [2]. ...
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Considering that the majority of Chinese language learners today have a certain level of proficiency in English, it is significant to conduct the research to explore the multilingual mastery of Chinese native speakers in the context of English as a second language. This paper explores the effect of native-based language competence on multilingual learners of Chinese by means of a summative scale questionnaire. This paper also explores the concrete language transfer of English as a source language through interviews and a specific analysis of compositions offered by six Chinese-English-German trilingual learners. The final conclusion is that when a native Chinese speaker learns a third language, the source language for language transfer will not be limited to Chinese. English as L2 has an impact on the learning and the use of vocabulary and grammar in L3, as well as on L3 writing, which both facilitates and hinders the learning and the use of L3. The influence of L2 on L3 is the most obvious at the intermediate level of L3 and learners with an advanced level of L3 are rarely affected by English. When L3 is an Indo-European language, it is more likely to be influenced by L2 English than by L1 Chinese.
... Hinkel (2004) also contends that for reasonable purposes, grammar teaching needs to address the standard rules of syntactic developments to empower students to prevail in education, career, or other social settings where formal use of prescriptive sentence structure is regularly preferred. Other studies pointed out that gender differences indicate the respondents' attitude toward second language teaching (Baker & MacIntyre, 2003); and that objective measures are required by which one may assess the competence of a person in one or more languages by a common standard (Lehmann, 2007). Consequently, Hodgson (2014) used a mixed method of qualitative questionnaire and proficiency assessment results of the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) to investigate the degree to which native speaker models of communicative competence affect the linguistic self-confidence. ...
... However, it has been suggested by scholars that second language users encounter communication breakdowns during communications in the L2 as a result of gaps in their linguistics repertoire (Adegbile & Alabi, 2009;Lehmann, 2007;Owusu, Agor, & Amuzu 2015;Rydell, 2018). Hence, researchers have looked into the types of communication strategies (CS) that second language learners use, the factors that influence the choice of a CS, the awareness of CS usage by second language users, etc. (Houston, 2006;Hua, Nor, & Jaradat, 2012;Spromberg, 2011;Tiono & Sylvia, 2004). ...
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Classroom interaction is very critical to the teaching and learning process in the second language classroom and speakers may encounter difficulties in expressing their communication intentions as a result of gaps in their linguistic repertoire. Necessarily, this study was conducted to ascertain the strategies students and lecturers of the University of Cape Coast use to compensate for gaps in their classroom interactions. The convergent mixed method approach was used to study 128 students and 2 lecturers of the Department of Arts Education of the University of Cape Coast. Questionnaire and an observational schedule were used to collect data from students and lecturers. It was found that students prefer to use non-linguistic means (indirect strategies) to convey their meaning while lecturers prefer to use strategies that engage students in the conversation (interactional strategies). Fillers, self-rephrasing, and self-repetition were found to be the most frequently used strategies by students and lecturers. The study concluded that interactional strategies are often used by lecturers as a teaching methodology even though excessive use of communication strategies sometimes disrupts instructional hours and impedes the proper acquisition of the English language. The study also recommends the use of more learner-centred teaching methodologies which will give students the opportunity to self-learn the second language by practicing it.
Measuring language dominance, broadly defined as the relative strength of each of a bilingual’s two languages, remains a crucial methodological issue in bilingualism research. While various methods have been proposed, the Bilingual Language Profile (BLP) has been one of the most widely used tools for measuring language dominance. While previous studies have begun to establish its validity, the BLP has yet to be systematically evaluated with respect to reliability. Addressing this methodological gap, the current study examines the reliability of the BLP, employing a test–retest methodology with a large ( N = 248), varied sample of Spanish–English bilinguals. Analysis focuses on the test–retest reliability of the overall dominance score, the dominant and non-dominant global language scores, and the subcomponent scores. The results demonstrate that the language dominance score produced by the BLP shows “excellent” levels of test–retest reliability. In addition, while some differences were found between the reliability of global language scores for the dominant and non-dominant languages, and for the different subcomponent scores, all components of the BLP display strong reliability. Taken as a whole, this study provides evidence for the reliability of BLP as a measure of bilingual language dominance.
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Сегодня одним из направлений высшего образования является формирование и развитие коммуникативной компетенции студентов неязыковых вузов. Важно оттачивать эту компетенцию, чтобы соответствовать текущим требованиям рынка и идти в ногу с мировым развитием. Следовательно, требования к уровню подготовленности студентов неязыкового вуза к успешной многопрофильной профессиональной деятельности претерпели значительные изменения. Придается особое значение одному из компонентов коммуникативной компетенции – лингвистической компетенции. Соответственно, особое внимание уделяется привлечению студентов к деятельности, ориентированной на языковое развитие, с последующим включением профессионально-ориентированной языковой деятельности в учебный процесс для формирования у студентов профессионально-ориентированной языковой компетенции. Подчеркивается, что развитие лингвистической компетенции имеет решающее значение для взаимодействия в процессе профессиональной деятельности, поскольку может гарантировать правильное объяснение, понимание, и четкую и эффективную коммуникацию.
Event-related potentials (ERPs) have become widespread in second language acquisition (SLA) research and a growing body of literature has been produced in recent years. We surveyed 61 SLA papers that use ERPs to study L2 sentence processing in healthy late learners. Our main aim was to provide a critical summary of findings from the decade 2010-2020. The qualitative review reveals that proficiency plays a major role in determining ERP components, but its effect is modulated by language similarity and individual differences. The statistical analysis (a multinomial logistic regression) suggests that ERP components are uniquely predicted by learners’ proficiency level and the linguistic phenomenon at issue, while no effect of language distance is found. We also made a cursive methodological overview, which evidences several gaps in the literature and raises some concerns on the way proficiency is factorized across studies.
As the author of this chapter note, the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (Brown et al. 1982, 1990, 1997, 2010) was built over 30 years ago to address the increasing diversity and complexity of a society in which the evaluation of intellectual ability and aptitude was rapidly becoming common practice. It is a highly standardized, norm-referenced measure of abstract reasoning and problem solving that requires no reading, writing, speaking, or listening. The test is culture-reduced and largely motor-free, requiring only a point, nod, or meaningful gesture as a response, and is appropriate for use with people ranging in age from 6–0 through 89–11 years and its pantomime and oral formats make TONI-4 particularly well suited for not only English speakers but also people who do not understand spoken or written English, either for cultural reasons or due to trauma, disease, or disability. As mentioned in the critical reviews, TONI-4 is suitable for use with almost all populations other than people who are blind or visually impaired. TONI-4 can be administered individually in about 10–15 min, yields index scores and percentile ranks, is available in two equivalent forms containing 60 items each, and employs a multiple response format. Finally, TONI-4 is psychometrically sound, is normed on a large, demographically representative and stratified sample of 2272 people, and has been characterized as reliable, valid, relatively free of bias with regard to gender, race, ethnicity, and other relevant variables.
This study is intended as an exercise in applied linguistics. Its purpose is to explore work done on the description of language use for insights which might be developed and exploited for the preparation of language teaching materials, in particular for those learners of English who need the language for the furtherance of their specialist studies. Chapter 1 establishes this applied linguistic perspective. Chapter 2 examines what is involved in delimiting the scope of grammatical statement and looks at the ontological and heuristic validity of the langue/parole dichotomy. This prepares the ground for a consideration, in the two chapters which follow, of attempts to extend the scope of linguistic description by redrawing the lines of idealization to include variation and context. Chapter 3 surveys attempts to characterize language varieties in terms of their formal properties and introduces a distinction between usage, de¬ fined as the exemplification of linguistic forms, and use, defined as the communicative function these forms are used to fulfil. This distinction is developed further in Chapter 4 in which text analysis is distinguished from dis¬ course analysis, the former having to do with cohesion, or sentence linkage, and the latter with coherence, or the manner in which utterances are related to each other as communicative acts. This leads in to the discussion of the relationship between sentences and utterances in Chapter 5, which deals with the problems involved in attempting to account for language use in grammatical terms, and which establishes discourse as a pragmatic rather than a semantic matter. Chapters 6-8 represent a development of the approach to discourse which emerges from the preceding chapters. Chapter 6 introduces the key notion of rhetorical value, which is defined as the meaning which attaches to linguistic forms when they occur mutually conditioned in contexts of actual use. Value is contrasted with signification, which is the meaning that linguistic forms have as elements of the language code. The two notions are discussed in relation to the sentence/utterance distinction and it is proposed that both of these should be distinguished from the locution, which is defined as the representation of a potential utterance, as distinct from a sentence which is defined as an exemplification of grammatical rules. Whereas Chapter 6 illustrates how value is realized with reference to lexical items, Chapt