Definition and Examples of Linguistic Accommodation

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

(Tetra Images/Getty Images)

In linguistics, accommodation is the process by which participants in a conversation adjust their accent, diction, or other aspects of language according to the speech style of the other participant. Also called linguistic accommodation, speech accommodation, and communication accommodation.

Accommodation most often takes the form of convergence, when a speaker chooses a language variety that seems to fit the style of the other speaker. Less frequently, accommodation may take the form of divergence, when a speaker signals social distance or disapproval by using a language variety that differs from the style of the other speaker.

The basis for what was to become known as Speech Accommodation Theory (SAT) or Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) first appeared in "Accent Mobility: A Model and Some Data" by Howard Giles (Anthropological Linguists, 1973).

Linguistic Accommodation in Modern Media

Linguistic accommodation can often be seen in modern media. For example, people in films may adjust their speech and diction to match the language other characters are using or journalists may comment on the use and perception of an accent.

David Crystal and Ben Crystal

"Everyone has more than one accent. Our pronunciation changes subtly depending on who we're talking to and how we get on with them.
"Linguists call it 'accommodation.' Some people have a natural flair for picking up accents, but everyone does it to some extent. Unconsciously, of course.
"You only notice you've done it when someone asks 'Are you from round here?' and you can't think of a satisfactory reply."
("Revealed: Why the Brummie Accent Is Loved Everywhere but Britain." Daily Mail, October 3, 2014)

"Trading Places" Film

Mortimer Duke: We are here to try to explain to you what it is we do here.
Randolph Duke: We are "commodities brokers," William. Now, what are commodities? Commodities are agricultural products—like coffee that you had for breakfast; wheat, which is used to make bread; pork bellies, which is used to make bacon, which you might find in a "bacon and lettuce and tomato" sandwich. And then there are other commodities, like frozen orange juice and gold. Though, of course, gold doesn't grow on trees like oranges. Clear so far?
Billy Ray: [nodding, smiling] Yeah.
Randolph Duke: Good, William! Now, some of our clients are speculating that the price of gold will rise in the future. And we have other clients who are speculating that the price of gold will fall. They place their orders with us, and we buy or sell their gold for them.
Mortimer Duke: Tell him the good part.
Randolph Duke: The good part, William, is that, no matter whether our clients make money or lose money, Duke & Duke get the commissions.
Mortimer Duke: Well? What do you think, Valentine?
Billy Ray: Sounds to me like you guys a couple of bookies.
Randolph Duke: [chuckling, patting Billy Ray on the back] I told you he'd understand.
("Trading Places," 1983)

Linguistic Accommodation in Academics

Linguistic accommodation is an important and well-studied topic in academia because it provides information about culture, sociology, psychology, communication, and more.

Phil Hall

"[M]any of the linguistic behaviors represented here as characteristic of policespeak also occur in the language of those interacting with police as a manifestation of accommodation. (48) Pol: O.K. Was Kelly, or the two persons in the car was; so there was four of youse in the car, I take it?
Sus: Four persons, yes.
In this example, the suspect confirms the interviewer's proposition that "there was four of youse in the car' recycling the interviewer's use of the term persons."
("Policespeak." Dimensions of Forensic Linguistics, ed. by John Gibbons and M. Teresa Turell. John Benjamins, 2008)

Lyle Campbell

"According to Giles' (1973, 1977; Giles & Couland 1991) accommodation theory, speakers may modify their speech in order to sound more like others they talk with to achieve greater social integration with them. However, Giles' approach deals not only with convergence through accommodation, but also with divergence, where deliberate linguistic differences can be employed by a group as a symbolic act for asserting or maintaining their distinct identity.
"Many connect this sort of motivation with LePage and Tabouret-Keller's (1985) 'acts of identity,' defined as follows: 'the individual creates for himself the patterns of his linguistic behaviour so as to resemble those of the group or groups with which from time to time he wishes to be distinguished' (Tabouret-Keller 1985:181). They find 'positive and negative motivation to identify with groups' as 'by far the most important' of their constraints governing linguistic behavior (LePage & Tabouret-Keller 1985:2)."
("Historical Linguistics: The State of the Art." Linguistics Today: Facing a Greater Challenge, ed. by Piet van Sterkenburg. John Benjamins, 2004)

Nancy A. Niedzielski and Dennis Richard Preston

"[A]ccommodation (at least to a 'previously-known' dialect) is explicit in the following: C: I noticed in my own family that my: - that my older sister who lived in Kentucky for the longest has a very strong Southern accent, or Kentucky accent. Whereas the rest of us pretty much lost it. = One time I noticed that -
Z: So you had?
C: Yes. ( ) And then I noticed when I am around people who have an accent I often speak that way a little more.
Z: Still? So you didn't ( ).
C: It depends on the situation. I: tend to: respond to, I think. Whenever I am around someone who has an accent. Or if: - It just slips out, sometimes. (#21)
In some cases such short-term accommodation may have more lasting influence. K (in #53) spent only three weeks with her sister in Kentucky but was teased for her 'drawl' by her brother when she returned to Michigan."
(Folk Linguistics. Walter de Gruyter, 2003)

Colleen Donnelly

"Accommodation theory emphasizes the fact that communication is an interactive process; the participants' attitudes toward each other and the rapport they develop, or lack thereof, have a direct effect on the outcome of the communication. . . .
"Accommodation theory does not provide a writer with a series of rules for instant success in communication. Yet, using this approach, a set of questions can be devised that will help you gauge the rapport you have established with your audience. These questions are best asked during the prewriting and revising stages."

"1. What do you expect the attitude of your audience to be: passive, challenging, skeptical, or eager for your communication?
2. How have you presented yourself in the text? Does the face and footing you choose for yourself encourage the attitude you wish to elicit from your audience? Is the manner in which you present yourself appropriate? (Are you authoritative without being overbearing?)"

"3. What attitude does your text encourage? Do you have to attempt to change the attitude of your audience to make them willing to engage the information presented in your text? . . .
You should keep the relationship between the writer and the reader in mind when you design texts. Though you may not have to deal explicitly with readers' attitudes in the text, the forms of address ('we' includes the audience, whereas 'you' can be at times inviting and at other times accusatory and distancing) and the syntax and grammar you choose (precise grammar and passive syntax signify formality and distance the audience) offer implicit cues about the face you have chosen and the footing you believe you are on with your audience. This, in turn, will affect how readers will respond to your text."
(Linguistics for Writers. SUNY Press, 1996)

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Linguistic Accommodation." ThoughtCo, Oct. 11, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, October 11). Definition and Examples of Linguistic Accommodation. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Linguistic Accommodation." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).