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Accommodation Theory

The accommodation theory, in linguistics, starts from the premise that speech accommodation takes place when people modify their speech so that it conforms more with the way their conversational partner speaks. A wide range of subtle adaptations have been observed, which tend to occur more or less unconsciously. For example, the speed at which people talk, the length of both pauses and utterances, the kind of vocabulary and syntax used, as well as intonation, voice pitch and pronunciation are all subject to the accommodation process.

This kind of convergence is by no means an automatic feature of all conversations, and we can discern certain social contexts in which accommodation can be predicted. For example, accommodation tends to occur when the speakers like each other. Alternatively, accommodation has been observed when the need to be deferential arises, or when one person wants to put another person at their ease. Consequently, accommodation can be interpreted as a polite speech strategy, designed to convey the impression that the addressee\'s speech is legitimate and worthy of imitation. Interestingly, accommodation theory reinforces the view that women tend to be more cooperative conversational partners than men, with the finding that women display much more radical speech modifications than men, when switching from a formal interview situation to informal conversation with friends. MS

See also anthropological linguistics; ethnography of speaking; sociolinguistics.