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Tema 1- Lenguaje y comunicación. Funciones del lenguaje. La competencia comunicativa: sus componentes


The functioning of all societies, either human or animal, is possible thanks to communication. It consists of an act through which an individual establishes with another one or others a contact which will enable him to convey some information verbal or non-verbal.

A lion roaring to warn another one that it is invading its territory, a child crying so as to show he is hungry, someone talking to another one, all of them perform acts of communication.

The faculty of being able to communicate with someone that man possesses, is called language and it is language what differentiates man from other kinds of beings.

To have an act of communication we need a code, that is to say, a group of signs which are combined by certain rules which are known by the addressor and the addressee, all of them elements of communication.

A sign is every material object (audible, visible etc.) which represents another object and which is used to convey some information relative to the object which is represented, that is meaning and significant.


The most frequent forms for messages are the visual and the auditory ones.

1. The auditory messages: are the most important and frequent ones and the ones which are conveyed through the oral language mainly, but there are other kinds such as a whistle from a train warning us that it is approaching.

2. The visual messages: are also very frequent. The most important ones are conveyed through writing but there are other which use images (drawings, pictures) such as smoking and non-smoking signals.

The human language´s double articulation: (According to André Martinet).

1. The first articulation refers to the morphemes, which are the smallest units in all spoken discourses with meaning: come-s.

2. The second articulation refers to the phonemes. If we go on dividing morphemes we find phonemes which are units without meaning: c-o-m-e-s.

Language functions: (According to Roman Jackobson).

1. Referential or representative: It defines the relations between the message and the object to which it refers. It is the base of all communication whose main problem is to have the most possible adjustement of truth, exactitude and objectiveness between words and the things. The study of this function belongs to logic.

2. Expressive or emotive: It defines the relations between the message and the addressor. Signs apart from representing a reality, they refer to the addressor, “ It is raining cats and dogs” can refer to the melancoly, the happiness or the nuisance of the addressor.

3. Appelative or conative: It defines the relations between the message and the receiver. Every communication and message has as its last objective to create a reaction on the receiver.

4. Phatic: It is the function that establishes, maintains or interrupts communication. In signs of the type Hello!, Goodbye!, Listen! We have a great predominance of this function.

5. Metalinguistic: It refers the message to the code from which it gets the meaning. Language apart from speaking about things is capable of speaking about itself, for instance when we clarify the meaning of a word.

6. Poetic or aesthetic: It relates the message to itself. The message is not just a communication vehicle any more but it becomes its own referent. When in a message predominates the poetic function, the attention is focused on the message itself. Words are more important than the ideas which are being conveyed, the significant is more important than the meaning.

Communicative competence: its components:

In Saussure we find the distinction between language and speech. Language is the linguistic knowledge, the ability of speaking a given language. Speech is a given physical realization of this knowledge and ability.

In the General Linguistic Course, Saussure says that language is the essential part and the common one to all speakers. Regularity can only be found in language. On the other hand, speech is mainly individual and accidental. According to Saussure the speaker´s freedom consists of combining individually language in an act of volition. Speech is individual, whereas language is collective.

In Chomsky we find the terms competence and performance. He distinguishes between what we know and the realization of what we know. For Chomsky competence refers to the knowledge of a homogeneous system which can be applied to the ideal speaker/hearer and performance is his specific realization, so we can only achieve competence by a process of abstraction. In performance we can find some conditions which are not taken into consideration by grammar such as distractions, limits of memory, slips of the tongue etc. Chomsky applies the term grammaticality to competence and acceptability to performance.

Communicative competence can be divided into 7 components:

1. General capacity of expression.

2. Capacity for activities which accompany language: gestures, postures, facial expressions.

3. Psycho-physic linguistic competence

4. Cultural linguistic competence

5. General linguistic competence (elocutive knowledge)

6. Particular linguistic competence (idiomatic knowledge)

7. Discourse or textual competence (expressive knowledge)

Speech is not only a psycho-physic activity but also a cultural activity, that is to say, an activity which creates culture. We can distinguish 2 levels in speech: The biological and the cultural one, because as a cultural activity it has to manifest itself materially, otherwise it can´t exist.

The speech activity has 3 different components:

1. The activity in itself (speaking and listening)

2. The knowledge we need to the activity

3. The product the activity creates

There are 3 levels in the linguistic knowledge:

1. The knowledge it corresponds to speaking in general is called elocutive knowledge or general linguistic competence.

2. The knowledge it corresponds to speaking a given language is called idiomatic knowledge or particular linguistic competence.

3. The knowledge it corresponds to the individual way of speaking is called expressive knowledge or textual competence.

Strange though it may seem, there is a general linguistic competence, that is to say, a competence which does not refer to a particular language but goes beyond particular languages. We cannot say: the five continents which are four: Europe, Asia and Africa. This example refers to the knowledge of the general principles of thought because 5 is not the same as 4 and 4 is not the same as 3.

Another example makes reference to the general knowledge of things: This morning I took 5 phonemes for breakfast because for breakfast you can´t take phonemes but food and drink.

The aim of communicative competence is that people use language to convey ideas, feelings and opinions in communicative situations in which there are some linguisticand social rules.

Types of Communicative competence:

Communicative competence is the sum of different types of competence: grammatical, sociolinguistic, discursive and strategic.

In order to get communicative competence, students have to master the linguistic code with its corresponding subsystems: phonetic, phonological, morphosyntactic and semantic.

1. Grammatical competence is the ability of using the rules by which the system of language functions. We always acquire it within a context.

2. Sociolinguistic competence: We also have to take into account some extralinguistic elements which are very important in the process of communication, that is, elements relative to the communicative situation (needs, intentions, interlocutors etc.). We have to produce utterances which refer in form and meaning to the communicative situation.

3. Discursive competence is the ability of using the different kinds of discourse and organise them with reference to the communicative situation in which they are produced and received.

4. Strategic competence is the ability of interlocutors to define and change progressively the meanings they convey in order to make precisions, clarifications and adjustments, that is, to use all the possible linguistic and extralinguistic devices they have to avoid interrupting communication or when it goes on in an unwanted way.

Communicative competence must be considered within 2 fields: oral and written, because conventions are completely different.

1. Oral communication: requires a constant adjustment of the message and it has a temporal duration. The interlocutors concentrate on the process and conveying the message, more than on the means they use. We can see syntactic irregularities and fluency is an important factor.

2. Written communication: The writer has to anticipate the reader´s reactions, he has to decide which information to convey and the form he will do it. The written text is a product, it has a future projection and it requires great correction. Accuracy is an important factor.