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Glossary of Literary Theory
by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown


The first part of Noam Chomsky's distinction between "what the speaker of a language knows implicitly . . . his competence and what he does . . . his performance." Linguistic competence refers to native speakers' tacit mastery or internalized knowledge of rules and norms which govern their language and make possible the generation of meaningful utterances. Literary competence refers to an analogous mastery and knowledge of the rules and norms of literary discourse. (See also Linguistics and literary theory.)

© Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown,
University of Toronto
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University of Toronto English Library
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Last modified: March 31, 1997