Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

What is meant by communicative competence?  

Communicative competence is a linguistics term that means all of the knowledge needed to successfully communicate meaning through language. The concept of communicative competence has found success in the linguistic community because it focuses more on cultural context than its predecessors. In order to demonstrate communicative competence, a speaker must possess linguistic, sociolinguistic, discourse, and strategic competences.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Communicative competence is a term frequently utilized in the field of linguistics to refer to the ability to successfully convey meaning through the use of language. The term was coined by noted linguist Dell Hymes in 1966 in response to the perceived shortcomings of scholar Noam Chomsky's definition of "linguistic competence." Chomsky's definition required only the knowledge of the proper syntax and grammar of a language; Hymes's communicative competence also included the cultural knowledge of how to appropriately utilize the language.

There are four central components under the umbrella term of communicative competence. The first is Chomsky's linguistic competence; the second is "sociolinguistic competence," which requires an understanding of the context of the communication as it relates to societal norms. In order to achieve sociolinguistic competence, a speaker must become familiar with the traditions and taboos of a particular society.

The third element is "discourse competence," the knowledge of how to properly combine strings of words into oral as well as written thought. One could demonstrate discourse competence by composing an e-mail message in a foreign language, or by writing and delivering a speech.

The final component of communicative competence is "strategic competence," the knowledge of how to restore communication if it breaks down. A speaker could demonstrate strategic competence by rephrasing a sentence to clarify meaning during a conversation.

Communicative competence is a concept that has stood the test of time because it clearly articulates the diverse knowledge that a speaker needs in order to communicate meaning through language.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is communicative competence?

Communicative competence, a term coined in 1966 by Dell Hymes, refers to the ability to use language to communicate effectively.  There are several components of communicative competence.

Linguistic competence involves knowing the phonological and grammatical rules of  language, as well as understanding vocabulary and syntax.

Sociolinguistic competence is the ability to use language appropriately in certain settings or in regards to certain topics.  This can extend beyond words and into body language.

Strategic competence is the understanding of how to repair breakdowns in communication.  This can involve clearing up misunderstandings and explaining one's meaning when vocabulary is unknown.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on