Accommodation Theory

Accommodation theory attempts to explain how people adjust the way they talk depending on who the audience is. Generally, there are two ways in which a person can adjust their speech. The two ways are convergence and divergence. In this post, we will look at these two ways of accommodating.

Speech Convergence

Converging is when you change the way you talk about sound more like the person you are talking to. This is seen as polite in many cultures and signals that you are accepting the person who is talking.

There are many different ways in which convergence can take place. The speaker may begin to use similar vocabulary. Another way is to imitate the pronunciation of the person you are talking to. Another common way os to translate technical jargon into simpler English.

Speech Divergence

Speech divergence is often seen as the opposite of speech convergence. Speech divergence is deliberately selecting a style of language different from the speaker. This often communicates dissatisfaction with the person you are speaking with. For example, most teenagers deliberately speak differently from their parents. This serves a role in their identifying with peers and to distances from their parents.

However, a slight divergence is expected of non-native speakers. Many people enjoy the accents of athletes and actresses. To have perfect control of two languages is at times seen negatively in some parts of the world.

A famous example of speech divergence is the speaking of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his ‘Fedspeak.’ Fedspeak was used whenever Greenspan appears before Congress or made announcements about changing the Federal Reserve interest rate. The goal of this form of communication was to sound as divergent and incoherent as possible below is an example.

The members of the Board of Governors and the Reserve Bank presidents foresee an implicit strengthening of activity after the current rebalancing is over, although the central tendency of their individual forecasts for real GDP still shows a substantial slowdown, on balance, for the year as a whole.

Make little sense unless you have an MBA in finance. It sounds like he sees no change in the growth of the economy

The reason behind this mysterious form of communication was that people place a strong emphasis on whatever the Federal Reserve and Alan Greenspan said. This led to swings in the stock market. To prevent this,  Greenspan diverged his language to make it as confusing as possible to avoid massive changes in the stock market


When communicating we can choose to adapt ourselves are deliberately diverge. Which choice we choose depends a great deal on the context that we find ourselves end

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