Linguistic Competence - Schools of Thought - Functionalist Critiques of The Generativist Concept of Competence

Functionalist Critiques of The Generativist Concept of Competence

Functionalist linguists forward a usage-based perspective on linguistic competence. They argue that linguistic competence is derived from and informed by language use, performance, taking the directly opposite view to the generative model. As a result, in functionalist theories emphasis is placed on experimental methods to understand the linguistic competence of individuals.

An argument used by functionalist linguists against the strict division between competence and performance and the primacy of competence, is that a language theory based on an autonomous level of competence encounters difficulties when trying to explain language change and grammaticalization, which can only be explained as changes in performance directly causing changes in the competence level.

Another common critique of the generativist concept of competence is that the underlying presupposition that the felicity of grammatical constructions is judged based only on its relation to competence is incorrect and does not fit the data from actual usage where the felicity of an utterance often depends largely on the communicative context.

Functionalist theorists have also argued that the competence/performance distinction basically serves to privilege data from certain linguistic genres and socio-linguistic registers that are judged by speakers to be more prestigious, while discounting evidence from low-prestige genres and registers as being simply mis-performance.

Cognitive grammar, one of several functionalist theoretical frameworks, was developed by Ronald Langacker to understand language as a result of cognitive mechanisms and processes and not from the grammar of the language. Within this school of thought, linguistic competence involves the ability to adequately construct and fully understand expressions by means of language itself and additional resources such as memory, intentionality, general knowledge etc. It also includes our knowledge to make abstractions, which allows us to conceive of words in isolation.

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