A usage-based account of multi-competence

Joan Kelly Hall

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11 Scopus citations


Introduction One of the more significant outcomes of the processes of globalization is the ever-increasing linguistic diversity of communicative practices involving individuals, communities, businesses and governments of different states, nations and nation-states. As the range and number of languages used in these practices have become more diverse and complex, so have the linguistic resources individuals need to participate in them. Across communities around the world, bilingualism and multilingualism are now the standard rather than the exception. By and large the research efforts of second language acquisition (SLA), a discipline devoted to understanding how individuals acquire languages in addition to their first language, have been hampered in its efforts to understand how individuals develop the competence they need to participate in such bilingual and multilingual practices. The crux of the problem, critics have long argued, lies in the field’s continued reliance on a view of language competence as a fixed homogeneous system that takes the idealized monolingual speaker as its norm (Blackledge 2005; Liddicoat and Crichton 2008; Makoni and Pennycook 2007; Ortega 2013). This “monolingual bias” (Ortega 2013) has its roots in formal linguistics whose view of language competence, defined as an internal system of abstract structures, was based on “an ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogeneous speech-community” (Chomsky 1965, p. 3). Arguing for the need of a concept of competence that more adequately captured what bilinguals and multilinguals know, early in the 1990s, Vivian Cook (1991, 1992) proposed the term multi-competence. Defined as a “compound state of mind with two grammars” (Cook 1991, p. 112), multi-competence became a springboard for research on bilingual and multilingual language knowledge and gave the field a useful lens for viewing L2 learners as successful multi-competent language users rather than as unsuccessful or deficient native speakers. While noting the significant role the concept of multi-competence played in helping to transform the field’s views of L2 learners, Hall, Cheng and Carlson (2006) argued that in retaining a view of L1 and L2 language knowledge as discrete systems and assuming homogeneity of language knowledge across speakers and contexts, the concept was less useful in transforming understandings of language knowledge. To remedy this, they argued for a usage-based view of multi-competence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Multi-Competence
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781107425965
ISBN (Print)9781107059214
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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