Linguistic Repertoire and Communicative Competence

Linguistic or verbal repertoire is ‘the set of language varieties used in the speaking and writing practices of a speech community’ (Finegan 2004, glossary). In other words, the linguistic repertoire of a speech community includes all the linguistic varieties (registers, dialects, styles, accents, etc.) which exist in this community. In monolingual speech communities this repertoire is made up of varieties of one single language. In multilingual speech communities (e.g. in Switzerland or India) it may be comprised of several languages and may include linguistic varieties of all these languages.

The linguistic repertoire of one individual speaker is determined by the language varieties that he or she knows and uses within his or her speech community (= active and passive knowledge). A speaker’s verbal repertoire defines his or her individual communicative competence. Communicative competence is the ability to not only construct grammatically correct sentences but also to apply language correctly and appropriately, i.e. with respect to different social speech situations. A competent speaker is able to vary his or her language by applying different registers and styles.