The competence–performance distinction is an important concept in linguistic theory. Whereas competence refers to speakers’ tacit knowledge of their language, performance reflects language understood as a set of actual utterances produced by native speakers. A distinct but intimately related dichotomy, especially within the framework of generative grammar, is that of “I-language” versus “E-language”; the earlier Saussurean distinction between langue and parole is also similar. In linguistic theory, the competence–performance distinction further gives rise to the identification of “grammaticality” or, more precisely, “acceptability” of natural language data. This entry discusses the difference between competence and performance in speaking, I-language versus E-language, and grammatical acceptability or “well-formedness.”

The Competence–Performance Distinction

In the hypothesized context of the ideal speaker–listener in a homogeneous speech community, speakers know their (speech community’s) ...

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