Spanish-English Contrasts: A Course in Spanish Linguistics

By M. Stanley Whitley | Go to book overview

Chapter 16
Language knowledge and language use

16.0 Linguistic and communicative competence.

Chomsky (1965) introduced the term COMPETENCE for the knowledge that native speakers have of their language: of its units, rules, and structures, and of what is grammatical and ungrammatical. This knowledge is generally unconscious; without training, one cannot easily describe question formation, vowel articulation, the use of determiners, or the placement of adverbs. In fact, to ask most Spanish speakers"¿Cómo se colocan las palabras en la oración?" would be about as fruitful as to ask"¿Cómo se resta?" or"¿Cómo se atan los cordones?" Yet they make skillful use of their language's units and rules for communicating, just as they quickly carry out subtractions or tie their shoelaces.

Although linguistic competence is fundamental and vast, speakers know and use much more in their communication. For one thing, they apply a knowledge of their world and culture that cannot always be separated from knowledge of language: to know the meanings of entender, vaca vs. toro, and hostia is to share with other speakers a certain understanding of practical epistemology, zoology, and religion (v. 14.1). Moreover, speakers constantly monitor how their message is being received, and their sentences reflect a tailoring to the situation as much as rules of grammar. Their speech is molded by their emotional states, premises, beliefs, cultural norms, and perception of consensus, and they follow certain linguistic routines prescribed by their societies. Expanding the scope still further, we observe that speakers accompany their verbal messages with nonverbal ones—eye contact, posture, facial expressions, body contact, and gestures (Coll, Gelabert, and Martinell 1990); these auxiliary modes, grouped together as PARALANGUAGE, can differ from one culture to another as much as morphemes and phonemes. Thus, it is hard to impose boundaries between language on the one hand and paralanguage, culture, and general world knowledge on the other. Linguistic competence is one part (a huge one, to be sure) of a broader COMMUNICATIVE COMPETENCE (Hymes 1972; Canale and Swain 1979).

Another part of communicative competence is PRAGMATICS (V. 0.1), the conventions for putting language to appropriate use. Specialists in pragmatics focus on two key factors:

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