Research Group “Accommodation and Social Categorization”

Over the last decades, research in psychology and linguistics has shown that in conversational interaction, speakers tend to adjust their communicative behavior to each other to become more similar (convergence) and sometimes less similar (divergence) to each other, a phenomenon referred to as accommodation or alignment. Accommodation has been observed in both spoken and written communication (e.g. Riordan, Kreuz & Olney 2013; Siebenhaar 2006). For spoken communication, it has been documented at all linguistic levels, including pronunciation (e.g. Pardo 2006), lexical choice (e.g. Brennan & Clark 1996), and syntactic constructions (e.g. Branigan et al. 2007), and it is commonly assumed to be at the base of linguistic change and its diffusion (e.g. Trudgill 1986; Bloomfield 1933). Linguistic accommodation can be related to the coordination of other kinds of social behaviors in an interaction such as gaze, mimicry, and body posture (Lakin 2013; Dijksterhuis & Bargh 2001), and it is currently debated whether it is primarily the result of an automatic mechanism (Pickering & Garrod 2004) or better understood as a communicative resource to express social closeness or distance to an interaction partner (Giles, Coupland & Coupland 1991).

A linguistic variety or specific linguistic features, for their part, can transmit social meaning about the speaker (e.g. Campbell-Kibler 2011), evoke stereotypes (e.g. Pharao et al. 2014), and affect behavior (e.g. Rakić, Steffens & Mummendey 2011; Heblich, Lameli & Riener 2015). It has also been suggested that language is a kind of social behavior which is particularly relevant in signaling social belonging (Cohen 2012; Giles, Coupland & Coupland 1991). So far, however, theoretical considerations and empirical research on the relationship between socio-indexical meaning of a feature and linguistic accommodation has yielded conflicting results (e.g. Trudgill 1986; Babel 2010; MacLeod 2012). A further research gap concerns the susceptibility of different linguistic levels (e.g. morphosyntax as opposed to phonetics) for accommodation, and its compatibility with theories of language contact (e.g. the borrowing hierarchy).

Through a series of research projects, we aim at investigating linguistic accommodation in different situations: contact between speakers of different dialects over a short and a longer time period, interactions between children and adults in bilingual communities, and written communication in social media. The broader aim of this research is to shed light on the mechanisms of linguistic accommodation more generally, and to better understand which factors may favor or inhibit change in a situation of language contact.


Babel, Molly. 2010. Dialect divergence and convergence in New Zealand English. Language in Society 39(4). 437–456.

Bloomfield, Leonard. 1933. Language. New York: H. Holt and Company.

Branigan, Holly P., Martin J. Pickering, Janet F. McLean & Alexandra A. Cleland. 2007. Syntactic alignment and participant role in dialogue. Cognition 104(2). 163–197.

Brennan, Susan E. & Herbert H. Clark. 1996. Conceptual pacts and lexical choice in conversation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 22(6). 1482–1493.

Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2011. The sociolinguistic variant as a carrier of social meaning. Language Variation and Change 22. 423–441.

Cohen, Emma. 2012. The evolution of tag-based cooperation in humans: The case for accent. Current Anthropology 53(5), 588-616.

Dijksterhuis, Ap & John A. Bargh. 2001. The perception-behavior expressway: Automatic effects of social perception on social behavior. In Mark Zanna (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 33, 1–40. San Diego: Academic Press.

Giles, Howard, Justine Coupland & Nikolas Coupland. 1991. Accommodation Theory: Communication, context, and consequence. In Howard Giles, Justine Coupland & Nikolas Coupland (eds.), Contexts of Accommodation: Developments in Applied Sociolinguistics, 1–68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heblich, Stephan, Alfred Lameli & Gerhard Riener. 2015. The effect of perceived regional accents on individual economic behavior: A lab experiment on linguistic performance, cognitive ratings and economic decisions. PLOS ONE 10(2). e0113475.

Lakin, Jessica. 2013. Behavioural mimicry and interpersonal synchrony. Nonverbal Communication, 539–575. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter.

MacLeod, Bethany. 2012. The effect of perceptual salience on phonetic accommodation in cross-dialectal conversation in Spanish. Toronto: University of Toronto PhD thesis.

Pardo, Jennifer. 2006. On phonetic convergence during conversational interaction. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 119(4). 2382–2392.

Pharao, Nicolai, Marie Maegaard, Janus Spindler Møller & Tore Kristiansen. 2014. Indexical meanings of [s+] among Copenhagen youth: Social perception of a phonetic variant in different prosodic contexts. Language in Society 43(1). 1–31.

Pickering, Martin J. & Simon Garrod. 2004. Toward a mechanistic psychology of dialogue. Behavioral & Brain Sciences 27. 169–190.

Rakić, Tamara, Melanie C. Steffens & Amélie Mummendey. 2011. Blinded by the accent! The minor role of looks in ethnic categorization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100(1). 16–29. doi:10.1037/a0021522.

Riordan, Monica A., Roger J. Kreuz & Andrew M. Olney. 2014. Alignment Is a Function of Conversational Dynamics. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 33(5), 465-481.

Siebenhaar, Beat. 2006. Code choice and code-switching in Swiss-German Internet Relay Chat rooms. Journal of Sociolinguistics 10(4). 481–506.

Trudgill, Peter. 1986. Dialects in Contact. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.