Communicative competence, language proficiency, and beyond

Bernard Spolsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The development of a theory of communicative competence was one reaction to Chomsky's somewhat limiting definition of the scope of linguistic theory. Communicative competence, as Hymes proposed it, seemed a particularly relevant idea to those interested in second language learning. The relevance of a theory of communicative competence to language testing was first noted by Cooper (1968) and explored by Canale and Swain (1980). Language tests involve measuring a subject's knowledge of, and proficiency in, the use of a language. Communicative competence is a theory of the nature of such knowledge and proficiency. But the formalization of the theory remains a problem. A preference model appears to be a useful way to characterize communicative competence; it has many advantages over competing models. But it, too, is now challenged by the promise of models within the theory of Parallel Distributed Processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-156
Number of pages19
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1989


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