Reconceptualizing multicompetence as a theory of language knowledge

Joan Kelly Hall, An Cheng, Matthew T. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

170 Scopus citations


Over the last decade or so, the concept of multicompetence has attracted significant research attention in the field of applied linguistics and in particular in the study of multiple language use and learning. We argue that while research efforts concerned with multicompetence have been useful in advancing a more positive view of second language learners, they have been less successful in transforming understandings of language knowledge. One reason for their lack of success is the fact that these efforts have been mired in a state of theoretical confusion arising from a continued reliance on three assumptions. These assumptions include (1) a view of L1 and L2 language knowledge as distinct systems; (2) the presumption of a qualitative distinction between multicompetence and monocompetence; and (3) the assumption of homogeneity of language knowledge across speakers and contexts. Our intent here is to redress these theoretical inadequacies by making a case for a usage-based view of multicompetence. We do so by drawing on empirical evidence and theoretical insights from other areas concerned with language and language development that expose the theoretical flaws in current research efforts on multicompetence. We then use these new understandings of language to reconsider findings on the language knowledge of multiple language users and to offer new directions for research on multicompetence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-240
Number of pages21
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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