Linguistic Accommodation Theory The theory of linguistic accommodation was first discussed by Howard Giles and his colleagues in the 1960’s. Giles was a social psychologist, not a linguist, declaring accommodation theory had its foundation in social psychological research on similarity attraction. He claimed, in essence, that individuals have both a need and desire for approval; thus, it is common for people to induce others to evaluate them in a more positive light by reducing the dissimilarities between them. This results in speech accommodation, with a high probability that individuals are willing to spend effort to involve identity change, for the potential rewards that may accrue for such an effort. According to the theory, when we talk with others, we unconsciously change our speech style towards the style our interlocutors use or they admire. Accommodation occurs in a wide variety of communication behaviors, including speakers’ accent, grammar, vocabulary, etc. Giles stated that accommodation may take place at the following levels when speakers compared their speech with their interlocutor: speed of delivery, pitch range, phonological variables, and vocabulary. Speed of delivery is the speed at which one talks, pitch range is how high or low one’s voice is in terms of frequency, phonological variables are sounds used by the speaker, and vocabulary are the types of words one uses. Accommodation differs according to the status of the speaker and the listener, and is associated with power. For English language learners (ELLs), a primary reason for accommodation depends upon the extent to which ELLs and immigrants want to be accepted into their host communities. If an individual moves to a new country and works at a new company, he or she would likely have a high need for social approval; thus, speaking style would be important. Accommodation theory uses a social-psychological perspective. It sheds light on the relationship between social/situational factors and L2 use. It examines what social factors motivate the use of psycholinguistic choices. Studies regarding second language (L2) learning have demonstrated that learners are sensitive to their interlocutor. For instance, ELLs tend to adapt their speech to their interlocutors by using more phonological variants. As a result, ELLs are likely to be more hesitant and briefer when addressing a listener with the same native language background, and are likely to be less prepared to negotiate any communication problems. Such a phenomenon occurs even during the early stages of learning, and learners seem to be aware of specific linguistic features that “stereotype” native speakers of the target language. ELLs are also more aware of their own identity, as well as the conversation topic, than are their native speaker interlocutors. Such sensitivity shows on their attitude toward a certain topic, judging themselves as experts or non-experts when comparing themselves to their native speaker interlocutors. ELLs often report that they believe they are far too slow in speaking the L2 and that native speakers are unusually fast. Giles stated that language is “socially diagnostic.” In other words, when an individual encounters someone speaking with a different accent or pronunciation, it is inevitable that they make guesses regarding this particular speaker’s non-linguistic characteristics, such as social status, education level, or even intelligence. Generally, people observe the speed at which others’ talk, the length of pauses and utterances, the kind of vocabulary and syntax used, as well as intonation, voice pitch, and pronunciation. Apparently, language is not homogeneous or fixed; rather, it is multi-channeled, multi- variable, and capable of vast modifications from context to context by the speaker. Accommodation theory is controversial because individuals tend to seek identification with others through language consciously or unconsciously. In fact, even the most trivial aspects of speech and pronunciation can take on crucial importance, and listeners often detect slight differences and afforded social significance. A person’s speaking style might change due to any number of variables. For example, when speaking to a non-native speaker or a child, an individual might speak slower or use grammatically simple language. Accommodation theory is also called “accommodative process,” which is in relation to identity, with a view of shedding light on the different ways in which speakers may manipulate language to maintain integrity, distance or identity. This theory is based on speakers unconsciously modifying their language choice, and their tone or speech rate in order to converge or diverge with others’ behavior. Although accommodation theory is considered a sociolinguistic theory, it has been employed in various settings, including speeches, writing, songs, radio broadcasting, courtroom proceedings, and human-computer interaction. The basic form of accommodation concerns communicators’ efforts to make themselves more similar to the target in order to improve communication. In addition, accommodation theory is about how individuals adjust their behaviors to one another, either to become alike or to exaggerate their differences. In an L2 learning environment, accommodation occurs in a wide variety of communication behaviors, including accent, rate, loudness, vocabulary, grammar, register, etc. ELLs may demonstrate accommodation to others but not be aware of their own behavior. Individuals change their speech pattern in various interactions for the purpose of demonstrating that they approve of the other person in the interaction. This concept has extended to include speech patterns as well as behaviors. In L2 teaching, based on accommodation theory, teachers of ELLs make whatever accommodation maybe necessary and this component is also called culturally compatible instruction. Under the heading of accommodation theory, there are two main strategies: convergence and divergence. Convergence occurs when the speaker adjusts their normal speech to make it more similar to the interlocutor’s speech or the speaker converges towards a prestigious norm that they believe is favored by the interlocutor. In short, the speaker accepts the interlocutor’s values and seeks to demonstrate that acceptance by his own linguistic behavior. Conversely, divergence occurs when a speaker seeks to alter their speech in order to make themselves linguistically different. Both convergence and divergence can take place in an upwards or downwards fashion. Upward convergence occurs when speakers adjust their speech in order to exhibit the norms of high status individuals in their society. On the other hand, downward convergence involves adjustments in order to separate one’s self from lower status individuals. Generally, upward convergence is the more common type since it is based on the universal desire for approval from those we respect and emulate. Upward divergence occurs when speakers emphasize the standard features of their speech, while downward divergence occurs when speakers emphasize the non-standard features of their speech. The causes of convergence and divergence can be complicated. One of the most well known studies regarding accommodation theory was initiated by Giles and his colleagues. It concerned conversations between unequally ranked nurses, and how convergence and divergence operated based on their ability to use the English language. The results showed that when speaking to lower ranked nurses, those with a higher status used less standard English; likewise, when the lower-status nurses spoke to their higher ranked colleagues, they spoke a more standard English. Moreover, people are more likely to convert their speech rate in a manner emphasizing the stereotype of their interlocutors’ speech rate, and their way of using language. In addition, speakers have the tendency to switch from convergence to divergence as they reevaluate the person they speak to during the conversation. In L2 learning, accommodation theory is connected with sociolinguistics and social psychology. From Giles’s perspective, ELLs social group is seen as the “in- group,” and the target language (L2) social group is seen as the “out-group,” and the relationship between them is explained as “perceived social distance.” When members of the in-group and out-group communicate, they may or may not adopt positive linguistic distinctiveness strategies. When members emphasize solidarity with their own in-group members, they perform linguistic divergence from the out-group; however, when members are more concerned about status, they are more likely to exhibit convergence. From a L2 learning perspective, convergence and divergence display the learners’ attitude toward L2 learning and, apparently, attitudes play an essential role regarding learning outcomes. In fact, Giles and his associates felt that if a ELL wants to fully master the target language, they need to be engaged in frequent and long-term convergence instead of divergence. Although studies have been conducted concerning how learners’ ethnicity affects their communication styles in the L2 classroom, there is no scientific evidence based on the learners’ attitudes of convergence or divergence. ELLs use convergence or divergence as a way to show the extent they accept the host culture and its communities. In others words, how ELLs define themselves in relationship with the host group is essential and influences their L2 proficiency level. Giles also believed that ELLs target language proficiency relies upon their learning motivation, which greatly impacts how learners perceive themselves in terms of their identity. Overall, accommodation theory has helped linguists understand why individuals emulate the speech patterns of their interlocutors. In a L2 situation, accommodation theory further helps to explain how ELLs vary in the way they use their L2 choice in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammatical structure. - Cary Stacy Smith and Li-Ching Hung See also: High and low status languages; Social class and language learning. References and recommended readings: Ellis, R. (2002). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gibbons, J. (2005). Law enforcement, communication and community. Journal of Multilingual & Multicultural Development, 26, (3), 265-267. Giles, H. & Coupland, N. (1991). Language: Contexts and consequences. Keynes: Open University Press. McCann, R., & Giles, H. (2006). Communication with people of different ages in the workplace: Thai and America data. Human Communication Research, 32, (1), 74-108.