As Giles & Clair (1979: 17) note, "language is not a homogeneous, static system. It is multi-channeled, multi-variable and capable of vast modifications from context to context by the speaker, slight differences of which are often detected by listeners and afforded social significance." Given the fact that even the most trivial aspects of speech and pronunciation can take on crucial importance, it stands to reason that individuals, consciously or unconsciously, should, among other things, seek or eschew identification with others through language.
There are several theories developed to model the process of communication between two or more individuals. One of these is the Communication Accommodation Theory. This theoretical perspective examines the underlying motivations and consequences of what happens when two speakers shift their communication styles. Communication Accommodation theorists argue that during communication, people will try to accommodate or adjust their style of speaking to others. This is done in two ways: divergence and convergence. Groups with strong ethnic or racial pride often use divergence to highlight group identity. Convergence occurs when there is a strong need for social approval, frequently from powerless individuals.
Communication Accommodation Theory focuses on the role of conversations in our lives. It has been incorporated in a number of different studies. For instance, accommodation has been studied in the mass media, with families, with Chinese students, with the elderly, on the job, in interviews, and even with messages left on telephone answering machines. There is no doubt that the theory is heuristic. The theory is expansive enough to be very complete, and it has been supported by research from diverse authors. In addition, the theory's core processes of convergence and divergence make it relatively easy to understand, underscoring the simplicity of the theory.
The strengths of the theory may be quite significant because the theory has elicited little scholarly criticism. Still, a few shortcomings of the theory merit attention. Judee Burgoon, Leesa Dillman, and Lesa Stern (1993), for example, question the convergence-divergence frame advanced by Giles. They believe that conversations are too complex to be reduced simply to these processes. They also challenge the notion that people's accommodation can be explained by just these two practices. For instance, what occurs if people both converge and diverge in conversations' Are there consequences for the speaker' The listener' What influence-if any-does race or ethnicity play in this simultaneous process' One might also question whether the theory relies too heavily on a rational way of communicating. That is, although the theory acknowledges conflict between communicators, it also rests on a reasonable standard of conflict. Perhaps you have been in conflicts that are downright nasty and with people who have no sense of reason. It appears that the theory ignores this possible dark side of communication.
Accommodation theory or "interpersonal accommodation theory" has sprung from the awareness that speakers are not merely "incumbents" (Runciman, 1998) of roles imposed on