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Reflections on the concept of communicative competence
“Suppose hypnosis is a state which renders the hypnotee completely, passively receptive to information, which, post?hypnosis, is indefinitely retrievable ? perhaps one can liken it to writing a computer program. Suppose now that a person wished to learn a language in this way: what information would be given, and how would it be presented? Would one dictate vocabulary, page by page from a dictionary? Should an audio cassette be played, featuring phonetic instruction? How about a video which provided all the main grammar? Clearly, even if all the linguistic element of the target language was somehow embedded in the hypnotee's subconscious, to be drawn from and released, flood?like, at will, the student could not be said to 'know' the language.” (Kraus, H. 1997: 1) 
However fictitious, or absurd, the metaphor of hypnosis may appear, the history of the field of L2-pedagogy stands as testimony to the serious status of the considerations that this metaphor raises. The question of “What to give learners and how?” in order to facilitate their ability to communicate has been a concern of every pedagogic approach that has been developed so far (Widdowson, 1990: 118). This concern has ranged from suggestions which draw their legitimacy from scientific views on language or learning as well as from intuition and “common sense” wherever science was considered to fail to bring decisive answers.

The hypnosis metaphor reflects a concern with the adequacy of abstract linguistic information in the context of language-learning and as such it exemplifies the kinds of problems which L2-teaching practices face in the task of considering the kinds of knowledge that it seeks to establish. Suggestions that language, and by implication the factors that affect language learning, can be understood through management of the linguistic properties alone overlook the structures transcending the interactions which they inform (cf. Bourdieu, 1991: 67-8). This is to say, disregarded is the complexity of the conditions by which the linguistic properties have come into being and, as a result, the complexity of the mechanism which imposes and guards the appropriateness of their selection at any given time (cf. Bourdieu, 1991: 138, cf. Hymes, 1996). 

The example below is taken from Bourdieu’s analysis of the relationship between a linguistic sign and the structures of its referents in Kabyla society.  It illustrates the multilayered nature of the relationship between the socially instituted conditions in which the linguistic sign is produced and the conditions in which it is perceived as meaningful (Bourdieu, 1995: 90). It indicates that for a sign to be recognised as a part of the communicative system, the system cannot be limited to the linguistic forces alone. Rather, it must take account of the conditions which legitimise the use of the actual signs i.e. the processes by which the signs operate as meaningful and thus cogent. Comprehension, in this view, is not a process of recognition and compliance to the norms, or rules, situated in language. It is therefore not (per se) a cognitive skill (Luke, 1995: 96). Rather, it is a process directed at the use of language and, therefore, at the social conditions in which words are employed (cf. Bourdieu, 1991: 107):

To be persuaded that the different meanings produced by the same scheme exist in the practical state only in their relationship with particular situations, one only has to assemble, as in dictionary, some applications of the oppositions between “in front” and “behind”. Behind is where things one wants to get rid of are sent. For example, in one of the rites associated with the loom, these words are used: “May the angels be before me and the Devil behind me”; in another rite, to protect against the evil eye, a child is rubbed behind the ear so that he will send evil “behind his ear”. (To cast behind is also, at a more superficial level, to neglect, despise – “to put behind one’s ear” - or, more simply, not to face, not to confront). Behind is where ill fortune comes from: a woman on her way to the market to sell a product of her labour, a blanket, yarn, etc., or of her husbandry, hens, eggs, etc., must not look behind her or the sale will go badly; according to a legend recorded by Galand-Pernet, the whirlwind attacks from behind the man who prays facing qibla. “Behind” is naturally associated with “inside”, with the female, (the eastern, front door is male, the back door is female), with all that is private, secret and hidden; but it is thereby also associated with that which follows, trailing behind on the earth, the source of fertility, abruâ, the train of garment, a good-luck charm, happiness: the bride entering her new house strews fruit, eggs and wheat behind her, symbolising prosperity. These meanings are defined by opposition to all those that are associated with “in front”, going forward, confronting (qabel), going towards the future, eastward, toward the light [here clearly the function of that which is male]. (Bourdieu, 1995: 90) 
Bourdieu, while referring to the mechanism which is put in place in order to ensure appropriateness of forms of production, employs the metaphor of invisible censorship in the form of self-censorship (Bourdieu, 1991: 138). The metaphor of self-censorship illustrates the process where individuals modify their linguistic behaviour by taking into account - in varying ways and to differing extents - the conditions of the contexts, i.e. of the linguistic market, within which their products will be received and valued by others (cf. Thompson, 1991: 19). The speaker’s assessment of the linguistic market conditions, and the anticipation of the likely reception of his or her linguistic products, operate as internalised constraints on the very process of production (cf. Thompson, 1991: 19).

Thus the source of these constraints is to be found in the context of social relations i.e. the fields of social relations or, in other words, autonomous universes: “a kind of arena[s] in which people play a game which has certain rules, rules which are different from those of the game that is played in the adjacent space” (Bourdieu, 1991: 215) (or, “structured spaces of positions in which the positions and their interrelations are determined by the distribution of different kinds of resources of capital”, Thompson, 1991: 14).  It can be said that the constraints which govern the forms of (and the access to) expression are transformed into self-censorship through the process of anticipation  (Bourdieu, 1991: 138, Thompson, 1991: 19), i.e. through actions directed at achieving practical goals embedded in the contexts of social relations which, in turn, determine the stakes and the appropriacy, or the power, of the means for their achievement (cf. Bourdieu, 1995: 81; Freadman, 1994a: 8; Miller, 1994, Vološinov, 1973: 90).

The invisibility of the censorship mechanism operating in communicative contexts thus is due to the very process in which individuals internalise the forms of perception and expression. That is to say, it is due to the relation of imposition in which the forms of production determine the forms of reception. Perception and production are complementary to one another. The forms of production influence the forms of perception and vice versa. The invisibility of the structural censorship regulating the ways of expression and perception is ensured by the very procedure of apprehension of the legitimate ways of being which, on one hand, envoke application of the schemes of construction (i.e. forms of reception), but, which, on the other hand, are the product of the incorporation of the very structures to which they are applied (Bourdieu, 1991: 238):

Censorship is never quite as perfect or as invisible as when each agent has nothing to say apart from what he is objectively authorised to say: in this case he does not even have to be his own censor because he is, in a way, censored once and for all through the forms of perception and expression that he has internalised and which impose their form on all his expressions. (Bourdieu, 1991: 138)
In this perspective, to mean in a language is to, on the one hand, partake in the process of structuring the perceptions which social agents have of the social world, while, on the other hand, it is to submit to the established laws of the authorised language usage by resorting to strategies which in a given context are recognised as valid and legitimate (Bourdieu, 1991: 116). This act of compliance to the authorised ways of speaking is an act which, at the same time, both, legitimates the established law (and thus contributes to its establishment) and seeks to be received as legitimate (Bourdieu, 1991: 116). Thus, for an expression to exercise its specific effect, it requires collaboration from, or complicity on the part of the participants who both, govern and are governed by the protocols of linguistic behaviour in relation to particular contexts (Bourdieu, 1991: 113):
… the language of authority never governs without the collaboration of those it governs, without the help of the social mechanisms capable of producing this complicity, based on misrecognition, which is the basis of all authority. (Bourdieu, 1991: 113)
The effect, or the power, of the action of meaning (i.e. a value of an utterance) will depend on the scale of the recognition which an agent is capable to mobilise in relation to the context of this action i.e. in relation to the kinds of social structures that impose the ways in which actions are received (i.e. evaluated or understood) and produced (i.e. structured) (Bourdieu, 1991: 107). The dependency of an utterance on the institutional conditions of its production and reception - (i.e. on the constraints which reflect the social conditions in which the organising structures were acquired and which form individual’s, or group’s, structured and thus structuring dispositions) - renders the value of an utterance not to come from the within of the linguistic system (i.e. it is not constitutive of language/linguistic substance of speech) (Bourdieu, 1991: 107, 109; cf. Massumi, 1996: 43). 

Rather, the value of an utterance comes from outside i.e. from the processes that have instituted its legitimacy in the first place in the form of anticipations which have been:

(a) generated in the context of functioning within the spaces of social relations,
(b) imposed on these spaces in ways that define them in terms of the conditions (such as the place, the time, the agent) that must be fulfilled in order for an utterance to be effective,
(c) internalised by the social agents as constraints motivating the ways in which individuals modify their linguistic behaviour,
(d) functioning as self-censoring constraints which concur with the conditions of existence of which habitus (i.e. the system of structured, structuring dispositions, Bourdieu, 1995: 52) is itself the product and thereby rendering the mechanism of censorship invisible (Bourdieu, 1991: 113). 

Thus, the efficacy of an utterance presupposes a set of social relations (i.e. an institution, in this sense), by virtue of which a particular individual, who is authorised to speak (i.e. is listened to due to his/her position in the space of the social field) and recognised as such by others, is able to speak in a way that others will regard as acceptable in the circumstances (Thompson, 1991: 8-9). The congruence, or concordance, which underlies the confidence and fluency with which individuals speak, attests merely to “the fact that the conditions in which they are speaking concur fairly closely with the conditions which endowed them with the capacity to speak, and hence they are able (and know they are able) to reap symbolic benefits by speaking in a way that comes naturally to them” (Thompson, 1991: 21). 

For Bourdieu, to be lost for words, or not to know how to act in a particular context, is to experience the lack of congruence, or discrepancy, between individual’s dispositions to generate valid ways of linguistic behaviour and the requirements of the social field which imposes the legitimate ways of production and reception i.e. the forms of censorship associated with these fields (Bourdieu, 1991: 71-2: 81). Linguistic competence, in this sense, is a set of dispositions, or practical anticipations, themselves the product of the whole history of the individual’s relations with the laws defining the social conditions of acceptability (i.e. with the markets), affecting individual’s practical relations to the actual markets and hence rendering themselves in the individual’s sense of confidence, ease, or timidity, tension, embarrassment or silence (cf. Bourdieu, 1991: 76-7):

This means that competence, which is acquired in a social context and through practice, is inseparable from the practical mastery of a usage of language and the practical mastery of situations in which this usage of language is socially acceptable. The sense of the value of one’s own linguistic products is a fundamental dimension of the sense of knowing the place which one occupies in the social space. One’s original relation with different markets and the experience of the sanctions applied to one’s own productions, together with the experience of the price attributed to one’s own body, are doubtless some of the mediations which help to constitute that sense of one’s own social worth which governs the practical relation to different markets (shyness, confidence, etc.) and, more generally, one’s whole physical posture in the social world. (Bourdieu, 1991: 82)
From this point of view, the naïvety of the act of contemplation as to the components of language which would render an inherently legitimate picture of its structure and the rules of its use, is an act of taking for granted the entire universe of social relations of which linguistic practices are constitutive and which envelop these in a manner which renders linguistic competence unaware of this relationship of interdependence (cf. Bourdieu, 1991: 80, 116). For Vološinov, to consider the process of language-learning as separate from the institutional conditions of production and perception is to consider the difference between literary and non-literary texts to lie in their linguistic organisation: “There is a world of difference between referring a work to a system of language and referring a work to the concrete unity of literary life” (Vološinov, 1973: 79).
Thus the personality of the speaker, taken from within, so to speak, turns out to be wholly a product of social interrelations. Not only its outward expression but also its inner experience are social territory. Consequently, the whole route between inner experience (the “expressible”) and its outward objectification (the “utterance”) lies entirely across social territory. (Vološinov, 1973: 90)
The link between the linguistic competence(s) and the contexts of human relations (a link forgotten by those who seek symbolic efficacy in words themselves, as demonstrated by Bourdieu, 1991: 107, 111, 113), makes it apparent that language learning is a process which is socially grounded i.e. it is embedded in social contexts and is directed toward their management. Now, to return to the question posed by Kraus, it would seem that whatever the means L2-teaching may employ, it cannot proceed without helping students to realise the social link between the learning process and the social basis of its object. This would also imply that the answer to the question of what to teach and how can no longer be resolved by a model that would substitute this complex relationship with its own form of its articulation. The questions which L2-teaching pursues will need to be considered in the context that acknowledges the possibilities and impossibilities that are embedded in this condition. 

Ania Lian, PhD Thesis, 2003


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