Linguistic competence is the ability of a person to speak and understand the language in a manner which is correct grammatically and lexically. The linguistic competence of a person consists of his or her ability to speak a certain language so that others should understand him or her, and at the same time ability to understand the words, phrases, and messages pronounced by other speakers of the same language. Thus, if a person can speak a language and understand what other people say in the same language, he or she possesses linguistic competence.
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As contrasted to linguistic competence, linguistic performance is the ability of a person to use the knowledge and language skills he or she has in practical situations in real day-to-day life. Linguistic competence includes the ability to use not only the lexical but also extra-lingual components of communication such as emotional coloring, hesitations, gestures, non-verbal communication, mimics, and many others.
Universality and Innateness
There are opinions that language is universal for all human beings and is an innate capacity of them only. These opinions are built upon the theory that no other animals can communicate and exchange messages between them. The fact that animals do communicate with each other is explained by their instincts while human language is a non-instinctive way to communicate which is universal for all human beings. However, its universality can be doubted because people brought up in isolated societies or outside the society display no capacities for languages. Thus, the innateness of language for all human beings is also under doubt as it is the skill that should be learned.
Rule-governed creativity is the unique ability of the human brain which presupposes the ability of language speakers to create new utterances and sentences that people have never heard before. This ability of the human brain is explained by the fact that knowing the rules of language grammar and syntax a person can build utterances based on familiar examples but aimed at absolutely different purposes and bearing different information. Thus, an infinite number of sentences can be created by people who have linguistic competence, linguistic performance, and know the grammar and syntax rules of the particular language.
Critical Period in the First Language Acquisition
The critical period in the first language acquisition is the period acknowledged by scientists and scholars during which a person, namely a child of an early age, is supposed to master the language skills. In other words, scholars are sure about the fact that there is a period in the child’s upbringing during which all skills, and language ones, in particular, should be acquired, and if they are not, then there is no guarantee that the child will master these skills at all. Thus, for example, it is easier for people to study foreign languages from early childhood because this critical moment has not come yet. On the contrary, those who start studying languages at a mature age have trouble with them because their critical periods are already in the past, and brains are not directed at such activities as acquiring new skills. Thus, the critical period is the time after which acquiring skills, language skills, in particular, becomes problematic or even impossible as the examples of children brought up by wolves demonstrate.