Lexical Competence

illustration of brain becoming words
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The ability to produce and understand the words of a language.

Lexical competence is an aspect of both linguistic competence and communicative competence.

Examples and Observations

  • Anna Goy
    During the last decade or so more and more philosophers, linguists, psychologists, and computer scientists have become convinced that no complete account of our competence in the domain of word meaning can be given without a link between language and perception (Jackendoff, 1987; Landau & Jackendoff, 1993; Harnad, 1993; Marconi, 1994). Moreover, it has been claimed that the boundary between lexical and encyclopaedic knowledge is not clear cut (or may be completely absent): the way we use, perceive and conceptualise objects is part of a kind of knowledge that not only belongs to our lexical competence, but is precisely what allows us to know the meanings of words and to use them correctly.
  • Diego Marconi
    What does our ability to use words consist of? What kind of knowledge, and which abilities, underlie it?
    It seemed to me that to be able to use a word is, on the one hand, to have access to a network of connections between that word and other words and linguistic expressions: it is to know that cats are animals, that in order to arrive somewhere one has to move, that an illness is something one may be cured of, and so forth. On the other hand, to be able to use a word is to know how to map lexical items onto the real world, that is, to be capable of both naming (selecting the right word in response to a given object or circumstance) and application (selecting the right object or circumstances in response to a given word). The two abilities are, to a large extent, independent of each other. . . . The former ability can be called inferential, for it underlies our inferential performance (such as, for example, interpreting a general regulation concerning animals as applying to cats); the latter may be called referential. . . .
    I later discovered, thanks to Glyn Humphreys and other neuro-psychologists, that empirical research on brain-injured persons confirmed, to some extent, the intuitive picture of lexical competence I had been sketching. Inferential and referential abilities appeared to be separate.
  • Paul Miera
    [D]eveloping good test instruments for evaluating hypotheses about vocabulary development may be more difficult than we have typically supposed. Simply comparing the associations of L2 learners and native speakers, using ad hoc lists of words, as much of the research in this area has done, begins to look like a very unsatisfactory approach to assessing L2 lexical competence. Indeed, blunt research tools of this kind may be intrinsically incapable of evaluating the hypothesis we think we are researching. Careful simulation studies provide a way of testing out the capabilities of these instruments before they are widely used in real experiments.
  • Michael Devitt and Kim Sterelny
    When we talk of an ability to use a name gained at a dubbing or in conversation, we are talking of competence. So competence with the name is simply an ability with it that is gained in a grounding or reference borrowing. Underlying the ability will be causal chains of a certain type that link the name to its bearer. Since the name's sense is its property of designating by that type of chain, we could say that, in a psychologically austere way, competence with a name involves 'grasping its sense.' But competence does not require any knowledge about the sense, any knowledge that the sense is the property of designating the bearer by a certain type of causal chain. This sense is largely external to the mind and beyond the ken of the ordinary speaker.
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Lexical Competence." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-lexical-competence-1691114. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Lexical Competence. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-lexical-competence-1691114 Nordquist, Richard. "Lexical Competence." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-lexical-competence-1691114 (accessed June 2, 2023).