ArticlePDF Available
"Communication accommodation
in intercultural encounters". Reprinted in L. Chen (Ed.), Culture, cultures and
intercultural communication: A cross
disciplinary reader, (Giles,
H., & Noets, K.A.). Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language
Education Press,
in press
1'
COMMU N I
CATI
ON ACCOAAMO
DATI
ON
IN INTERCUTTURAT
ENCOUNTER'
HOWARD 6ILE' / KIMBERLY
A. NOELS
Vhen members of two cultural groups come ro-
;ethea they often have to make choices abour
uhose communication system to use and how
auch to accommodate each other. Consider back-
rackers in a Europeaa youth hostel at the end of a
Lay
on the road. Travelers from the four corners
,f the world, including GEFmans,
Israelis, Aus-
ralians, South Africans, Iranians, Americans,
nd Japanese,
come together in the cornmon room
l prepare their meals. They discuss
ths dstails of
heir latest adventure, share their impressions of
he city in which they have arrived, and seek ad-
ice on the next place to visit. How will they com-
runicate? What language will serve? For those
rho can speak each other's language, how will
rey decide which linguistic code to use? The
rocess of negotiating these deciiions and their
ehavioral implications is the concern of the the-
ry covered in this chaptel, Communication Ac-
ommodation Theory (CAT). We will begin with
discussion of the importance of language for
rterethnic relations. The fundamental tbnets of
AT will then be outlined, includine the notions
F convergenee
and divergence,
folloiued by a con-
.deration of some recent research
findings.
The Importance of Language
in Intercultural Relatilns"
and Communication
espite the complexities of negotiating a language
rr intergroup commuaication, few scholars have
rvestigated language behaviors and processes
r intercultural encounters. This is surprising
ven worldwide prominence of languag" irrr.r"s
L
iatercultural interactions, and particularly in
>nflict-ridden interactions (CJ6ment,
I 996). Con-
der the following examples.
The official language of the Ottoman Empire,
which had been in use for over 400 years, was
suppressed
tn 1922 in an effort to promote a mod-
ern versicin of the language. It was felt that this
linguistic change to modern Turkish would dis-
courage identificadon with the-old empire and
encourage linguistic iden ;fication with central
Asia. Elsewhere, in an attempt to distinguish their
language from Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian writ-
ers in Yugoslavia began to incorporate words and
grammatical sfirrcfures used in rwal areas in an
effort to develop a new standard of the langrage.
This attempt to change the language occuied at
the same.time as Macedonians strove for a sepa-
rate Macedonian republic in Yugoslavia.
During the 1976 Soweto riots in South Africa,
many Blacks and Whites were killed. These riots
occurred at a time when Blacks were protesting
the White government's insistence that the A{ri-
kaans language be used in the education of Black
students. As expressed
by Black leaders,
the situation has unearthed the innermost frus-
trations of Black people
which were hidden
from the outside world. Although there is a
prevalent belief in some quarters that Afrikaans
as a medium of instruction was not a direct
positive
factor in these
riots, this is not so. Afri-
kaans was forced down Black students just as
much as the Trust Land Act, pass
laws, and
migratory labour. (reported
in Ihe Times
[London,
June 23,
197
9), cited
in Giles & Coupland,
199 1,
p. 95)
As a symbol of White domination and oppression,
Blacks most certainly perceived the enforced use
of Afrikaans in the school system as an abhotrent
and inexcusable attack on their social identity.
More recently in Canada, concerns over
cultural autonomy and laaguage maintenance
threaten to divide Canadians. In a 1995 provin-
cial referendum, 49o/o
of the Quebec population
139
140 Part Four: Language, Discourse, and Intercultural Communication
iili
'ii;1,
i;lljir
jrijl
'
.,i
voted to remove themselves as a province from
Canada, a percentage only slightly less than the
SLo/o who decided to stay in Confederation. This
concern over cultural maintenance centers to a
large extent on linguistic issues:
The Quebec gov-
ernment passed legislation requiring that com-
mercial signs be printed primarily in French and
that French be the primary language of instruc-
tion for most non-French-speaking immigrant
children (Lemco, 1992).
Finally, coucern over language issues remains
an important facet of ethnic relations in the
United States. In response to the diversity of lan-
guages spoken in some areas, many states have
declared English as their official language. These
movements are also evident at the federal level.
Identity issues have often centered in these de-
bates, for those who are both for and against
official language policies. For instance, Repub-
lican House Representative Norman Shumway
(1992)
wrote
fEnglish] has been the "glue" which has held
us together, forging stength attd unity from
our rich cultural diversity. From our earliest
days,
despite our melting pot inheritance, En-
glish has been the language in which we ex-
pressed
the goals,
objectives,
ideals, prihciples
and duties of or.rr form of government. It is the
language in which the Declaration of Indepen-
dence and the Constitution are written. . . . And
in my view, it is the primary language in which
our govemment should continue to function.
(pp.121-122)
Elsewhere, in opposition to an officially mono-
liogn.l societ5r, columnist Montaner (1992) writes
We quarrel; are
jealous,.
love;-and
hate
with cer-
tain words, with certain tones, with certain
inflections ofthevoice learngd
in childhood and
adapted to a given set of gestures
that also can-
not be transported into another language. . . .
We cannot do without our own tongue without
brutally mutilating our individual conscious-
ness. . . . Ifthis is so, is it reasonable
to ask
millions of human beings to do without this
fundamental part of their lives solely so that
others are not inconvenienced . . . ? (p. fta)
Why Is Language So Important
for fafsrsfhnie Relations?
According to Giles and Coupland (1991), there are
at least *tree reasons: Language is often a crite-
rion for group membership, it is a cue for ethnic
identity, and it is a means of facfitating ingroupl
cohesion.
There are different criteria for membership in
an ethnic group, including ancestry, physical fea-
tures, religion, and so on. Most ethnic groups also
have a distinct language or dialect, and the abil-
ity to use this language may be necessary for
group membership. To illustrate, there was a com-
mon saying in Hispanic communities in the
southwestern United States in the 1
9Z0s:'? Mexi-
can American who carlt speak Spanish should
choke on iris chiii beans!" Even when there are
clear and distinctive criteria for ethnic group
membership, such as skin colof, an ethnic lan-
guage variety often remains a critical atffibute.
When he met his A{rican "brothers" in Sierra
Leone, one Alrican American member of the
Peace Corps was surprised and dismayed when
they called trim oyimbo (White man) because of
his standard American English and behavior
(Hancock, tr974).
Language has been shown to be an important
aspect of ethnic identity, more important even
than cultural background for many social groups,
albeit not for all. For instance, Smolicz (1984)
argued that Dutch people in Australia did not
consider language to be central to their identity,
although Polish and Greeh people did. Taylor,
Bassili, and Aboud (1973) found, however, that
some French Canadians felt closer to an En-
glish Canadian who spoke French than to a
French Canadian who did not. In a similar vein,
Cl6ment, Gauthier,-and Noels-(1993) examined
Franco Ontarian adolescents who spoke French
most often or English most often. Their re-
sults showed that although both groups learned
French as their native language, Francophones
who spoke primarily English identified less
strongly with the Francophone group and more
t The term "ingroup" refers to the group to which the in-
dividual belongs. The term "outgroup" refers to any group
to which the individual does rof belons.
crLE s /NoEL si Communication Accommodation in Intercultural Encounters 141
with the Anglophone group than did tlose who
spoke prim4rily French. For many groups, then,
the language used is closely connected to feelings
of ethnic identity.
Language is also important for ensuring
within-group cohesion. Kim (1988) suggests that
the linguistic code, as one of the primary media
through which the daily activities of humaa af-
fairs are conducted, can well be described as a
carrier of.culture. By sharing a coinmonJanguage
for communication, individuals also share a com-
mon manner of interacting in the social world.
Moreover, this shared commodity carries qrrn-
bolic value: Fishman (1977) suggests provoca-
tively that language.. "can become the ultimate
symbol of ethnicity, since in expressing, referring
to, and evoking something else il. addition to it-
self, it becomes valued in itself" (p. 25). Naturally
enough, people are very emotionally attached to
this ethnic symbol, so much so that ethnic group
members using a language and speech style other
than that of their group may be labeled cul-
fi:ral traitors by fellow group members. Indeed,
recent Internet graffiti from the United States
on the Punjab Usenet group (cited by Sachdev,
1995) illustrates how important language may be
for within-group solidarity: "To any Punjabi out
there, whether you are a Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh.
If you speak Hindi or Urdu instead of Punjabi,
you are a serious disgra.ce to your culture and you
shouldnt call yourself a Punjabi!" (p. 175).
At the same time, it is important to note that
members of an ethnic group need not speak the
language so long as they have it available; indeed,
"e hnislty is frequently related more to the symbol
of a separate language than to its actual use by all
members of a group" (De Vos, 197
5, p. 15). Gaelic,
Welsh, and Breton are all examples of langu4ges
that are not spoken by the majority of those who
idenfi with their respective groups, but that are
nevertheless higtly valued as aspects of ethnic
identity. Moreover, De Vos argues that, even with:
out a distinct language, "group identity can .
be maintained by minor differences in linguistic
patlerns and by style of gesfi:r:e"
(p. 16). For ex-
ample, many immigrants may speak their host
language, but with a distinctive accent and with
words and phrases borrowed from their own eth-
nic tradition, culture, and religion. In a similar
way, manJ Australians are reexamining the in-
fluence of American and European traditions on
Australian culture and are considering the nature
of a distinctive Australian identity. In an article
about the Australian Renaissance ("Ockerism") in
the London Observer
Revierar
(June 27, 1976),lan-
guage was considered to be a central aspect of
this issue:
Americanization of the language is much more
sigrrificantlypervasive, than t}e high-incidence
of skate-boards and roadside fust food par-
lors. . . . The American inrasion of the Austra-
lian stomach was always on the cards. But the
invasion of the laagqage is less easy
to laugh off.
(cited in Giles & Coupland, 1991, p. 100)
- Language is hence often important for inter-
cultural relations because
(1) it serves to classify
people as members of a particular ethnic group,
(2) it is important for their identity as an ethnic
group member, and (3) it can be used to empha-
size solidarity befween ingroup members and to
exclude outgroup members from ingroup trans-
actions.
Cornmunication
Accommodation Theory
Having established that language behaviors have
diverse and complex implications for intereth-
nic relations, we move now to consider how it is
that communicators fashion their self- (and also
goup) presentations via langu.age. The frame-
work used to describe and explain these commu-
nicative behaviors is Commr:nication Accommo-
dation Theory (CAT). According to CAI, we are
motivated to use language in different ways to
achieve a desired level of social distance between
or:rselves and or:r listener. Each of us often ac-
commodates verbally and nonverbally to others-
and is aware of others accommodating to us (or
not, as can be the case) on many levels. Such ex-
periences are common in settings sqch as the
classroom, the courtroom, business and com-
merce, and so forth. To illustrate, referring to the
travelers in the youth hostel described in the in-
troduction, an American traveler from Georgia
iiit
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mayuse a standard U.S.
American accent (such as
the accent used by television anchorpersons on
national television) while talking *ith a fellow-
traveler from Vermont. Upon returning home to
Georgia, he may switch back to the accent more
typical of that part of the country. It may even be
argued that there are no occasions in which we do
not adjust our language style to take into account
what we believe to bb the perspective of the per-
son with whom we are interacting.
There are many kinds of accommodative acts,
manyreasons for accommodating, and many con-
sequences arising from accommodation.. In the
following sections, the fuadamental strategies of
convergence and divergence and their complexi-
ties are addressed frst. We then examine the
q'nchrony between speakers' intentions and ac-
tual behavior, and listeners' interpretations. Fi-
nally, we consider how social beliefq, such as
stereot;pes and norms, guide accommodation, al-
though not always in ways that lead to successful
interactions.
Convergence and Divergence
Convergence can be defined as a strategy whereby
individuals adapt their communicative behavior
on one or a number of linguistic, paralinguistic,
and nonverbal features in such a way as to
become more similar to their interlocutor's be-
havior. Among the many communicative behav-
iors that may be 66dified are languages and dia-
lects, and characteristics found within la4guage
gxoups, such as speech rate, pauses, utterance
length, phonological variants, smiling, and gaze.
Although most studies have been condrrcted in the
West and in English-language settings, conver-
gence on temporal, phonological, or language-
switching dimensions has been noted in many dif-
ferent languages, including Hungarian, Frisian
and Dutch, Hebrew Taiwanese Mandarin, Japa-
.nese, Cantonese, and Thai (see sources in Giles,
Coupland, & Coupland, 1991).
As suggested earlier, motives for converging
vary widely. Certainly, converging to a common
linguistic style can improve the effectiveness of
communication (Gallois, Giles, Jones, Cargile, &
Ota, 1995)-the.similarity in speech styles be-
tween interlocutors has been associated
with pre-
dictability (Berger & Bradac, 1982) and intelligi-
bility (Triandis, 1960).
Another motive that has re-
ceived considerable attention since the inception
of the theory (Giles, 1973) is the desire to gain ap-
proval from onet interlocutor. The premise is that
the more similar we are to our interlocutor, the
more he or she will like us and the better able we
will be to gain social rewards from them. Indeed,
convergence is generally associated with more
positive evaluations (Bourhis, Giles, & Lambert,
1975). This tendency,
however, may be constrained
by several factors that are discussed later in this
essay.
Divergence refers to the way in which speakers
accentuate speech and nonverbal differences be-
tween themselves and others. Divergence is de-
signed to emphasize distinctiveness from one's
interlocutor, usually on the basis of group mem-
bership. Following the premises of Tajfet's
(1978)
Social Identity Theory, CAI maintains that indi-
viduals categorize the social world into groups,
and derive a part of their identity and self-esteem
(called "social identity') from groups to which
they belong. Assuming that people are motivated
to maintain self-esteem, they will tend to differen-
tiate their own group from other groups, provided
they are pleased
to belong to that goup.
Consistent with the idea that people will try to
differentiate themselves linguistically from others
when their social identity is strong, Bourhis and
Giles (1976) designed an experiment to demon-
strate the use of accent diverge,gce among Welsh
people in an interethnic context. The study was
conducted in a language laboratory where people
who placed a strong value on their national group
membership and its language were learning the
Welsh language (only abowt' 260/o'
of:Welslr-people
at ttrat time, as now, could speak their national
tongue). During one of their weekly sessions,
Welsh people were asked to help in a survey
concerned with second language learning tech-
niques. The questions in the survey Were pre-
sented to them verbally, in English, in their indi-
vidual booths by a very English-sounding speakeq,
who at one point arogantly challenged their rea-
'sons for learning what he called a "dying language
with a dismal future." As expected, the infor-
mants diverged by broadesing their Welsh ac-
cents when replying to the perceived threat to
U\J
i
ii,l
142 Part Four: Language, Discourse, and Intercultural Communication
GrLEs/NoEL si Communication Aciommodation in Intercultural Encounters 143
their et}lnic identity, compared to emotionally
neutral questions asked earlier. Moreover, some
informanls began introducing Welsh words and
phrases into thei.r answers.
One Welshwoman did
not reply for a while, and then was heard to conju-
gate a pejorative verb gently into the microphone'
A phenomenon similar to divergence is main'
tenance, i4 which a person continues in his or her
original speech style, in spite of the convergence
or divergence of the interlocutor. Maintenance is
often evaluated in the same way as divergence
(Bourhis, 1979).
d)
Further Distinctions in Corr-rtergence
and Divergence: Direction, Degree,
and Mutuality of Accomrnodation
The complementiiy nature of convergence and
divergence is summarized in Figure 1. Individuals
may speak the language of the outgroup with no
trace of an accent, such that they can pass as a
member of that group, or they may affect a slight
to heavy accerrt to hint at their ingroup origins.
Alternatively they may maintain their original
language but speak more slowly to help the out-
group member understand. Finally, they may
completely diverge (i.e., show no convergence)
by
using the ingroup language at the usual speed
used by native speakers.
One might accommodate
on one feature, such as accent, but at other times
on multiple features, for example, by adjusting
word choice and speech rate in addition to ac-
cent. Moreover, convergence (or divergence) on
some features of a language does not imply that
there will be convergence (or divergence) on all
features.
Accommodation is not a one-way process. As
outlined in Figure 2 (p. 144), within a commu-
nicative episode, each interlocutor can converge,
diverge, or maintain, although not necessarily to
the same extent as the partner. When accommo-
, dation is approximately equal for both partners,
it is said to be symmetrical. At other times one
partner may converge or diverge to the greater
or lesser extent, or fail to react (i.e., maintain), or
behave in a contrasting mannen This is called
aqnnmetrical accommodation. Thus, although
convergence and divergence are complementary
concepts, they can both occur in a commtlnica-
tion episode and in different ways for each inter-
actant. Moreover, as complex as accommodation
is, its complexity is amplified further when one
considers how speakers interpret their own and
their listeners' intentions subjectively.
Objective, Subjective, and
Psychological Accomrnodation
There are several levels on which accommoda-
iion phenomena can be invesiigated. The previous
discussion focuses on objective accommodation,
that is, on actual communicative behavior, as
assessed through direct observation of linguistic
exchanges in an interaction. The examination of
accommodation, however, is not restricted to this
behavioral level, but includes, perhaps more in-
terestingly, an examination of the intentions of
speakers and the perceptions of listeners. These
latter two levels are termed psychological and
subjective accommodation, respeciively. A speak-
er's intention is often consistent with actual be-
havior, but this need not always be the case. For
example, referring back to the example in the
introduction, one of the American travelers may
FrcuRE I Some IncreasingVariants of Convergence
and Dilrergence
(Source:
Mapted from Giles,
Bourhis,
& Taylor, 1977.)
Linsuistic Dimensions Increasing
Convergence Increasing
Divergence
1. Outgroup language with nativelike pronunciation
2, Outgroup language with features of ingroup pronunciation
3. Ingroup language with slow speech rate
4. Ingroup language with normal speech rate
t44 Part Four: Language, Discorirse, and Intercultural Communication
1. Symmetrical convergence
2. Asymmetrical convergence
3. Convergence in the face of maintenance
4. Convergence in the face of divergence
5. Symmetrical divergence
6. Asymmetrical divergence
7. Divergence in the face of maintenance
8. Symmetrical maintenaace
A---?
A->
A -------->
A -----)
<-A
<-A
<_- A
A
<-B
- <-B
B
B------)
B --------)
B --->
B
B
FrcuRE 2 DegTee,
Drection, and Mutuality of Accommoilation
(Source:
Adapted
from Gallois
and Giles
[in press]')
decide to adopt a Spanish accent in order to ac-
commodate a Spanish fellow-wanderer. This ac-
cent may not, however, tnrly represent the Span-
ish speaker's accent or in any way correspond
with an actual Spanish accent. Similarly, speakers
may converge to their listener objectively, but the
intent behiad this convergence may not be to in-
dicate intimacy with the listener but to exclude
the listener from the language group. For in-
stance, Woolard (1989) reports of a language
norm in Spain to the effect that Catalan should
only be spoken between Catalans, such that Cas-
tillian speakers who attempted to speak Catalan
would Iikely receive a reply in Castjllian. br
an empirical exaimination of correspondence be-
tween speakers'intentions and their actual behav-
ior, Thakerar, Giles, and Cheshire (1982) exzrm-
ined student nurses in conversations with their
supervisors. Coiltrary to objective measures that
indicated that their behavior became less similar
to the supervisors', the nurses maintained their
behavior fid not change.
Subjective accommodation refers to the lis-
tener's interpretation of the speaker's act. Like
psychological accommodation, subjective accom-
modation does not necessarily correspond with
objective behavior. Returning to the example of
the interaction between the Spanish and English
speakers, the Spanish speaker may not be familiar
enough with English to notice that the English
speaker has altered his or her language or may
not recognize the change as a shift to a Spanish
accent. Similarly, even if the change in behavior is
perceived, the Spanish speaker! interpretation
may not be consistent with the English speaker's
intention-the Spanish speaker may see it as a
rude joke, as mimicry of his or her imperfect
English. In a similar vein, Giles and Smith (1979)
varied convergence on three linguistic character-
istics-pronunciation; speech rate, and message
content-and found that convergence on any one
level was viewed positively but that convergence
on all three levels was viewed negatively. Thus,
in spite of the greater similarity that objective
converger{ce implies, the listener may not inter-
pret this behavior as actually indicating greater
intimacy.
Optimal Level of Accornmodation:
Stereot5Pes and Norms
The mismatch between objective accommodation
on one hand, and psychologica{and subjective ac-
commodation on the other, implies that inter-
actants have some notion of an optimal level of
accommodation (Giles & Srnith, 1979); that is,
speakers and listeners have beliefs and expecta-
tions that act as guidelines for what is appropriate
md acceptable accbmmodation behavior' T\vo
such guidelines are stereotypes regarding out-
group members (and theirlevel of communicative
competence) and beliefs about the appropriate
norrns regarding language use.
Stereofites Stereotypes
about characteristics of
outgroup members are often associated with ex-
pectations about how they rdll respond in a social
encounter. Returning to the interaction between
),
cILES /NOEL Si Communication Accommodntion in Intetcultural Encounters 145
the American and Spanish travelers, the Ameri-
ean may expect Spanish people to be emotional
and sociable, and alter his or her behavior to be-
come similarly expressive
and outgoing' Usingthe
stereotlpe as a guideline for communication, the
American may risk offending the travel-weary
Spaniard, who in fact sees such behavior as bois-
terous and inffusive' In this scenario, the Ameri-
can could be said to overaccommodate the
Spaniard. Other expectations regarding charac-
teristics and behaviors of outgroups may similarly
affect convergence. For instance, the person who
thjnks that his or her interlocutor could not rea-
sonably be expected to be fluent in the speaker's
Ianguage may not see divergence or maintenance
in a negative light. Irl line with this notion,
Simard, Taylor, and Gil.es (1976) found that non-
convergence on the part of the interlocutor that
was tfre result of linguistic incompetence was
viewed less negatively than nonconvergence that
was perceived to be the result of a lack of effort.
Norms In addition to stereotypes regarding out-
group members, nofins regarding language use
ian also influence the extent of convergence and
divergence, and the manner in which these ac-
commodation phenomena are evaluated. Accord-
ing to DeRidder, Schruijer, and Tripathi (1992)'
when two groups coexist in a societ5r for a long
period of time, they establish norms for how
members from the two groups should interact
with each other. Extending this idea to the realm
of language, these norms may constrain the ex-
tent to which one can converge or diverge. For
instance, Bourhis (1991) for:nd that despite the
fact that the French-speaking population was a
majority in provincial government of6ces in New
Brunswick, Canada,
both Anglophones and Fran-
cophones
reported using English more often than
French when interactilg across language groups'
Moreover, regardless of the level of English com-
petence, Francophones were more likely to con-
verge to English, even when the English speaker
was a subordinate employee. The same was not
true of English speakers, who usually main-
tained their use of English even when interacting
with French-speaking superiors' Thus, intergroup
norrns for language use overrode the importance
that demographic representation could hdve had
in affecting patterns of language use' Adherence
to norms may also moderate our impressions of
others. Simard, Taylor, and Giles (1976) found
that when attempts to converge were perceived as
a reaction to situational pressures forcing them to
converge, convergence was viewed less positively
than when it was seen as an attempt to reduce
intercultural distance between the two speakers.
A pervasive norrs is that individuals will con-
verge to tlle language of the group with greater
ethnolinguistic vitality, who often speak what is
termed the standard or prestige r,ariety of a
language. Ethnolinguistic vitality refers to the
power of a language group, in terms of its demo-
graphic represeniation, institutional support in
areas such as government and education, and
social prestige (Giles, Bourhis, & Taylor, 1977).
Thus, all other factors being equal, it would be ex-
pected that Latinos converge to English speakers
in the United States, Francophones converge to
Anglophones in Canada, and'Turkish speakers
converge to German speakers in Germany. This
straightforward hypothesis is complicated by the
fact that different dialects may compete as a stan-
dard language. To illustrate, although French re-
mains a prestigious language in Tunisia since
France's attempt to colonize that country up untjl
the 1940s,
Tunisian Arabic is widely accepted as
a marker of "real" Tunisians' Lawson-Sako and
Sachdev (1996) investigated convergence, diver-
gence, and code-switching in Tunisian pedestri-
ans who were randomly approached by either
Arab Tunisians or White Europeans who asked
for directions to the local post office. Half of the
pedestrians were asked for directions to the post
offrce in Tunisian Arabic and half in French. The
researchers expected that a Tunisian confederate
ashng for information in Tunisian Arabic would
receive a reply in Tunisian Arabic, and a Euro-
pean would receive one in French. Although re-
ipondents generally converged to the language of
the researcher, they were more likely to converge
if the request was presented in Tunisian Arabic'
They were more likely to use code-switching
strategies or to diverge if addressed in French'
Thus, despite the prestige of French, Tunisians
were likely to signal their distinctiveness from
their former colonizers.
Further complexities are evident when one
146 Part Four: Language, Discourse, and rnterculturar communication
considers that different dialeck may have vary-
ing appeal for different groups of people. For in-
stance, Al-Khatib (1995) explains that although
Modern Standard Arabic may be the standard
dialect in Jordan, the urban variety of Jordanian
Arabic is also highty regarded, albeit more so by
women than by men. In an investigation of the
impact of interlocutor sex on linguistic accom-
modation, Al-Khatib examined the use of phono-
logical variants of the two dialects by speakers on
a phone-in radio show. As e:<pected,
men were
more standardized in their linguistic behavior,
and women were less standardized and more
urbanized.
The importance of gender in determinins ad-
herence to different linguistic styles is further il-
lustrated in a study by Willemyns, Gallois, Callan,
and Pittam (in press). Undergraduates app\ring
for a job as a research assistant received two in-
terviews, one from an interviewer who spoke
irl a broad Australian English accent and one
from an interviewer who spoke in a cultivated ac-
cent. Male applicants diverged from cultivated-
accented females, particularly if they identified
with the broad accent. As pointed out by Wille-
myns and his colleagues, *ris is consistent with
the premises of CAT that the stronger a person's
loyalty to their language, the more he or she
will emphasize distinctiveness between groups.
Women, however, did not charige their accenr,
suggesting that they are more accommodative
than men.
In addition to considering intergroup norms,
situational norms may further affect the exrent
and evaluation of language use: For instance, in
the study by Willemyns et al. (in press), applicana
used broader accenis when t"llcing with the
broad-accented interviewer than when rallring
with the cultivated-accented interviewer. There
was, however, no evidence of convergence to the.,
cultivated-accented interviewer. The authors sug-
gest that possibly the formal nature of the inrer-
view situation primed the appfrcants to speak
with as cultivated an accent as possible. Depind-
ing on the formality of the situation, convergence
and divergence may be more or less positivd
viewed. Cot6 and Cl6ment (1994) presented stu-
dents with hypothetical interactions between a
Francophone and an Anglophone. In less inti_
mate, task-oriented seftings, Anglophone inter_
locutors who used English were evaluated
less
fa-
vorably than those who'used French; but in
intimate situations, the language used by the
Anglophone interlocutor did not affect their eval_
uations. The authors suggested that in intimate
situations, expectancies regarding appropriate
language behavior may be -or" ,"lu*ej and
flexible than in task-oriented situations. Thus, the
positivity of convergence may be situationally
bound.
Epilogue
This essay has focused on the importance that
language has in intercultural relations. It sug_
gested
that language helps to categorize, symbol_
ize, and give coherence to cultural groups: Be_
cause language is often an important aspect of
ethnic identity, how we use it can emphasize how
closely we identify with the people with whom we
interact, so that by converging our linguistic style
to others', we generally wish to indicate closeness.
Td bV {iverging in our linguistic style, we g"rr"r-
ally imply distance. Space
precludes a discussion
of many other issues addressed
by CAT, such as
accommodative strategies at the discourse level or
greater elaboration of the issues of under_ and
overaccommodation, but more extensive trear_
ments can be found elsewhere (e.g., Gallois et al.,
1995;
Gallois & Giles, in press; Giles & Coupland,
1991;
Giles et al., 1991).
The present discussion
does suggest, howeveq, that.satisfying commu_
nicative exchanges may requirl a delicate balance
of convergence to demonstrate willingness to
communicate, as well as divergence to proliote a
he-althy sense of group identity (see -Cargile &
Giles,
1996).
We have.seen that interactants have expecta_
tions regarding the optimal level of convergence
and divergence, expectations that may be based
on stereot5pes about outgroup members and
nonns for intergroup interactions and situation-
ally acceptable behavior. Individuals, lineuistic
choices may correspond with their intentiois and
with listeners' interpretations, but there is ofren_
times a mismatch between these aspects of ac-
GrLEs/NoELs; communication Accommodation
in Intercuhural Encounters 147
commodation. In intercultural interactions, it is
not difficult to imagine the potential for miscom-
munication that can result if interactants do nor
share common assumptions about group char-
acteristics and appropriate intergroup behavior
across different sifu ations.
It is also important to note that CAT's
utility in
explaining intercultural relations extends beyond
the micrbinteractions discussed here, to more
macrolevel ones, including issues of language
1"u1ning, language-mairrtenance arrd shift; and
creolization. With its attention to intergroup com-
munication sfategies, CAI can readily be applied
to other intergroup settings, such as encoun-
ters between genders,
across generations, and be-
tween people who "are physically challenged and
those who are not. However CAI is applied, the
perspective emphasizes that intercultural com-
munication or communication in general is often
not so much about the exchange of referential in-
formation as it is about social connectedness
and
the negotiation of social identities.
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KEY TERMS
accommodation underaccommodation
lingrristicaccom- CommunicationAccom-
modation modation Theorv
objective accom- convergence
modation divergence
optimal level ethnolinguistic vitality
overaccommo- ingroup
dation intergroup differentiation
psychological maintenance
accommodation outgr<itrp
subjective Social Identity Theory
accommodation
. DISCUSSION QI]ESTIONS_
2.
Drawing from your own experience, what might
be the implications of CAT for learning a second
language? Using the constnrcts of convergence
and divergence, dissll55 how well an individual
might learn a second language and how often he
or she might be inclined to use it.
As pointed out in this essay, CAT can be applied
in a variety ofintergroup contexts (e.g., intercul-
tural, intergenerational, intergender, etc.). Con-
sider how CAT might be useful in describine
l.
RUBrN:
Help! My Professor
(or Doctor or Boss)
Doesn't Talk
English! r49
interactions between grarrdparents and their
teen-aged grandchildren. How does the applica-
tion of the theory in this context differ from the
intercultural context-or does it?
3. Reflect on your travels to other areas where
people do not speak your native language, How
did you decide on which language to use to
speak with the people from that country? Was
the reaction of the other person to your language
choice positive, neukal, or negative? How wor:Id
CAT explain why this reaction happened?
16
H E[P!
MY PROFE''OR
(OR
DOCTOR
OR
BO'5)
DO"E'NT
TALK
ENGTI'H!
DONALD L. RUBIN
On his way to the first meeting of his Introduc-
tion to Business Accounting class.,
marketing
major Greg Hanoverl was feeling that familiar
sickly sweet sensation in the pit of his stom-
ach-half anticipation and half fear-thdt aL-
ways accornpanizdhim during thefirst week
of
class. As he approached the clnssroom, he sqw
his friend Barbara Coleman, another iunior in
marlceting, hoverirtg iust outsifu ihe doorway.
Greg and Earbara had talcen two classes to-
gether last year, and they woul.d.
occasionally
get together to study before an exam.
"Hey," called Greg, "loolcs lil<e the dynamic
duo is back together again to figfut the Battle of
Accounting this fall. Letb go do it, partner."
"Hey, Greg! ,\wright!" T'hen,
withher
smile waning, Barbara continued, "But I
dort't know about this here accounting class.
I iust canl risk getting a ba.d
grade in it. I
need at laast a 8."
'WelL, itb a required class; you've got to
take it anyway, so we'U iust bust our chops
and do it. Right? I mean it may not be the
most exciting stuff, but we'll do okay, and re-
aIIy I can see that you kindn need this stuff "
lAll names used in tlrls chapter are fictional. The inci-
dents are not.
"Itb not thet. Have youlooked to see
whob teaching
it?"
Barbara motioned with her head for Greg
to glnnce into the room. The instructor was
standing at the podium, Iooking over some
notes, shuffiing papers until the offi.cial start
of class period. Barbara rolled her eyes and
rabed her eyebrows.
"Yeah, so, itb some TA. You always get
graduate students teaching these intro
ctasses.
So what?"
"I'm sorry," Barbara said.withfinality in
her voice, "I just can't go through another
kiLler class with a teacher who doesn't speak
English. i mean, mlith is not my best sub-
iect. So at least I need a guy who can speak
the language when heb doing problems at
the board. This summer I took stat
from thb
Chinese guy. And I meanhewas smart and
everything I guess, but geez
I couldn't under-
stand a word he said. And arcrybody in the
class was the sameway Some of them even
went to the department chair to complain.
Most peopb just stopped goingbecause they
could learn just as much on their own. I
even went to the tutor and everything-but
thatlady was from some damn place too
and it was iust as hopeless
with her I mean,
I was luclcy I even
got a D in that cl"ass.
So
'rl
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This chapter offers a critical examination of the literature on intercultural communication training and a generalized model of the usually implicit process of training. Though limited, some research has tested various outcomes outlined by this model and has produced some supportive, although largely inconclusive, results. The authors argue that an array of important intergroup constituents of the training process remain obscured at best, and disregarded at worst. For instance, negative attitudes and stereotypes about the target host group can compromise attention toward, and acceptance of, much training material. Context, by means of its historical backdrop and the norms it provides, can also restrict training effectiveness. These and other intergroup dynamics can frustrate the training process and even work against the goals it seeks; indeed, boomerang effects have been documented. This chapter offers a new model of intercultural training that affords considerable theoretical status to intergroup processes.
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Cross-cultural adaptation refers to the process of internal change in individuals so as to be able to function in an unfamiliar culture. Newcomers learn to make adjustments in their original cultural habits and are able to attain a level of efficacy in the new environment. The process of adaptive change involves the deculturation of some of the original cultural habits and the acculturation of new ones. Both processes occur through communicative engagements between the individual and the host environment. Long-term and extensive experiences of cross-cultural adaptation may lead to the individual's assimilation into the mainstream culture of the host society.