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1. Artistic enactment for an audience (a dramatic or musical presentation, or some other form of entertainment). Also, an individual's competence or achievement in such a performance.

2. Most broadly, behaviour: usually overt, observable behaviour, particularly the carrying out of some task, function, or role, the adequacy of which can be assessed (e.g. in relation to normal expectations or competence). In relation to social interaction, this dramaturgical metaphor related to self-presentation is associated with Goffman (see also impression management). Related usage includes dynamic framings of identity, such as in ‘the performance of gender’ (see also performativity). The term can also refer to the level of functional adequacy of a product or device or the profitability of an investment.

3. In informal usage, a pejorative reference to a display of exaggerated behaviour.

4. (linguistic performance) (linguistics) A concept introduced in the 1960s by Chomsky, who defined it as ‘the actual use of language in concrete situations’, seen as secondary to competence. Later used more widely to refer to the utterances produced by speakers, including all nonfluencies such as hesitations, false starts, grammatical errors, unfinished sentences, and parapraxis. Compare langue and parole.

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