Accommodation Theory in Language Communication

Often when people communicate, they will make a subconscious or even a conscious decision to adjust their speech so that it is more alike or less alike. This is known as accommodation.

In this post, we will look at the following concepts related to accommodation

  • Speech convergence
  • Speech divergence

Speech Convergence

Speech convergence is when people speech starts to sound similar to each other. Often, this is a sign that the speakers are being polite to each other, like each other, and or when one speaker has the interest to please another.

Speech convergence is not only for social reasons. Another reason that a person will modify their speech is for the sake of removing technical jargon when dealing with people who are not familiar with it. For example, when a mechanic speaks to a doctor about what is wrong with their car or when a medical doctor speaks to a patient about the patient’s health. The modification happens so that the other person can understand.

Speech convergence can be overdone in terms of the perceptions of the hearers. For example, if a foreigner sounds too much like a native it can raise suspicion. Furthermore, over convergence can be perceived as insulting and or making fun of others.  As such, some difference is probably wise.

Speech Divergence

Speech divergence happens when people deliberately choose not to mirror each other speaking styles. The message that is sent when doing this is that the people communicating do not want to accommodate, seem polite, or perhaps that they do not like the people they are communicating with.

Examples of this often involve minority groups who desire to maintain their own cultural identity. Such a group will use their language judiciously, especially around the local dominant culture, as a sign of independence.

Accent divergence is also possible. For example, two people from the same country but different socioeconomic standings may deliberately choose to maintain their specific style of communication to indicate the differences between them.

Conclusion

Convergence and divergence in communication can send many different messages to people. It is difficult to determine how people will respond to how a people convergence or divergences from their speaking style. However, the main motivations for accommodation appear to be how such behavior benefits the communicator.

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