Dell Hymes- Breakthrough into Performance

Hymes, Dell. 1981[1975]. “Breakthrough into Performance.” In “In Vain I Tried to Tell You”: Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics, 79-141. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

13- Hymes is calling out the division between grammarians/structuralists and performance scholars; this langue/parole distinction has kept the two excluded from each other.

14-15- competent members of society have the abilities of (1) interpretable, (2) reportable, (3) repeatable.

Here we have the beginnings of communicative competence.

What behavior is interpretable (cultural) in this community? for this person? what behavior is reportable in this community? by this person? what behavior is voluntarily doable in this community? by this person?

Interpretability: classifying and explaining
Reporting: describing
Repeatability: doing and performance

18- performance, as cultural behavior for which a person assumes responsibility to an audience, is a quite specific, quite special category. Performance is a key to much of the difference in the meaning of life as between communities.

Hymes gives three examples of the “breakthrough” performance-

Overall, Hymes objected to the marginalization of performance from the center of linguistics (grammar/langue) and proposed the notion of communicative competence, or knowledge necessary to use language in social context, as an object of linguistic inquiry. Since appropriate language use is conventionally defined, and varies across different communities, much of Hymes early work frames a project for ethnographic investigation into contrasting patterns of language use across speech communities. In this essay, the theme “has been the distinction between knowledge what and knowledge how, or, more fully, between assumption of responsibility for knowledge of tradition and assumption of responsibility for performance.”-69

70- knowledge and performance of tradition of interdependent, in the sense that the nature of the performance affects what is known, for the persons in a community as well as for the outside inquirer into tradition.

Hymes renamed his idea ways of/ethnography of speaking later into the ethnography of communication to reflect how broad language could function in communication (besides just language production). This way you could analyze how communication (verbal and nonverbal) gets conventionalized between a given community of users.


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