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date: 22 August 2017


Summary and Keywords

People can adjust their communication in a variety of ways for different contexts, audiences, and purposes. Although these adjustments often improve or facilitate interaction—that is, make it smoother, better, or easier—sometimes they do not. “Nonaccommodation” is a concept drawn from communication accommodation theory (CAT) and refers to adjustments in communication behavior associated with disaffiliation, expressing dissimilarity and/or obscuring information. Nonaccommodation can be defined and described in terms of either speakers’ or listeners’ experiences; it may also be intentional or unintentional on the part of a speaker. Researchers have studied nonaccommodation in terms of both its objective behavioral manifestations (e.g., linguistic divergence) and the subjective perceptions that relate to those behavioral manifestations (e.g., psychological divergence; over- and underaccommodation). Responding to nonaccommodation effectively can be challenging, and what constitutes the “best” or “most appropriate” response often depends on contextual factors and interactants’ goals. In line with the functions of accommodation described in CAT, nonaccommodation can influence communication effectiveness as well as the nature of interpersonal and intergroup relations. Generally, nonaccommodation hinders shared understanding and increases perceptions of social distance between individuals and their social groups. Often it is also associated with less positive evaluations of the people and groups involved, as well as lower levels of relational solidarity. Nonaccommodation occurs frequently across a wide variety of societally significant contexts, including intergenerational, medical/healthcare, police–civilian, family, and educational interactions. As such, it represents an important area for both theoretical and applied research.

Keywords: communication accommodation theory, overaccommodation, underaccommodation, reluctant accommodation, intergroup relations, intergroup communication


Most people’s lives involve a range of different activities that require them to interact with different people. When in these different situations, people do not always communicate in the same way; rather, they adjust their communicative behavior, in terms of both style and content. Much of the time, these adjustments function to facilitate interaction and/or increase feelings of closeness between people. However, this is not always the case: people can also adjust their communication in ways that hinder effective communication and/or increase social distance. Within the framework of communication accommodation theory (CAT), this is referred to as nonaccommodation (e.g., Dragojevic, Gasiorek, & Giles, 2016). After briefly introducing CAT, this article reviews different conceptualizations of nonaccommodation, the forms that nonaccommodation can take, how people respond to it, and the effects that it has, with an emphasis on its consequences for intergroup relations. It concludes with a discussion of current issues and future directions for research on this topic.

Communication Adjustment and CAT

As its name suggests, nonaccommodation is a concept that originates in theoretical work on communication accommodation. Space does not permit a comprehensive discussion of CAT (for a detailed description, see Dragojevic et al., 2016; Giles & Soliz, 2014); however, a brief summary of its key points provides a useful foundation for understanding nonaccommodation. CAT seeks to explain and predict when and how people adjust their communication for each other in interaction, and what consequences follow from this. Consistent with many other theories and frameworks addressing communication adjustment (for an overview, see Gasiorek, 2016a), CAT posits that there are two primary functions of accommodation (Giles, Scherer, & Taylor, 1979): managing comprehension (which the theory refers to as the cognitive function) and managing social distance (which the theory refers to as the affective function).

Adjustments to manage comprehension are those that help or hinder other people’s understanding of what is said. For instance, speakers may choose particular words (e.g., more or less domain-specific, technical, or complex terms) and sentence structures (e.g., very basic constructions versus those with more embedded clauses) to make their message harder or easier for a listener to understand. Speakers often shift between different languages or dialects as a means to manage comprehension: a major reason for engaging in code-switching can be that an interlocutor knows one code better than she or he knows another. Speakers can also adjust qualities like clarity of enunciation, the volume of their voice, and the speed of their speech to influence how easily a listener can process and ultimately comprehend what is said (Dragojevic et al., 2016).

Adjustments to manage social distance are those that signal or assert individuals’ social identities or positions relative to others’. For example, people can use certain words to signal that they belong to a particular group (e.g., technical terms associated with a profession or trade) and to include or exclude others relative to that group. People can adopt particular ways of speaking (e.g., a dialect, accent, or use of certain constructions) to show others that they are similar to or different from them, as a means to manage social distance. People can also opt for more or less respectful word choices and/or sentence constructions to convey things like respect for power, authority, or social rank (e.g., using titles or formal registers/language forms, in languages that have such forms and/or registers) (Dragojevic et al., 2016).

CAT emphasizes the importance of context to the way that people adjust their communication. Contextual factors that can influence people’s communicative adjustments include history, norms, communicator characteristics, and goals. First, CAT posits that the history of relations between the people involved in an interaction—as individuals and members of social groups—can influence how people choose to communicate. Second, local norms and values create a baseline for what constitutes “appropriate” communication in different social situations and locations (e.g., at work, at home, in a religious meeting). This can also affect the ways in which people behave. Third, the qualities and/or characteristics of the people involved in the interaction—such as language skills, level of knowledge about particular topics, and/or physical abilities or limitations—can shape what kinds of adjustments are needed, desired, or even possible (e.g., people cannot switch to speaking a language they do not know, even if they would like to do so). Finally, CAT posits that the goals speakers have for the interaction—that is, what people want to achieve by communicating—can affect which function of accommodation they emphasize and, by extension, how they adjust their communication (Dragojevic et al., 2016; Gallois, Ogay, & Giles, 2005).

Types of Nonaccommodation

For nearly every way in which people can adjust their communication to facilitate interaction and strengthen social ties with others, they can also make adjustments that impede understanding and increase social distance. The latter sort of adjustments are considered nonaccommodation and can take a variety of different forms. In some senses, the label “nonaccommodation” could be seen as etymologically misleading: while it seems like it should refer to a lack or absence of adjustment (i.e., no accommodation), nonaccommodation generally does involve adjustment of communication behavior. What distinguishes these adjustments from those traditionally labeled “accommodation” is that there is some degree of dissimilarity, disaffiliation, and/or obfuscation either sought by or resulting from nonaccommodation (Gasiorek, 2016b). To date, communication scholars have used the term “nonaccommodation” as a general label for a number of different constructs that encompass both speakers’ communicative behaviors and listeners’ perceptions of those communicative behaviors. This section will briefly summarize the different ways that nonaccommodation has been conceptualized.

Divergence: Early work using CAT focused heavily on the objective (i.e., visible and measurable) ways in which communication adjustment could occur, and the effects this generally had on interactants. Out of this work came the concept of divergence, which refers to making one’s communication (more) distinct from that of an interlocutor (Bourhis, Giles, Leyens, & Tajfel, 1979). Examples of divergence include changing the speed of one’s speech to be different to someone else’s (e.g., speaking slowly in response to someone speaking very quickly) or responding to very extensive or elaborate speech with terse, minimal expressions (e.g., “oh”). With such adjustments, speakers enact and/or emphasize dissimilarity between their own verbal or nonverbal behavior and that of their interlocutors. In some cases, divergence can also be used to regulate or shift the way that others are communicating. When calming an upset child, for example, parents will often use a soft or soothing tone of voice (which is deliberately distinct from a child’s screaming).

Maintenance: Maintenance is another construct from early, speech-oriented CAT research and is defined as continuing to use one’s “default” (i.e., typical) communication style, irrespective of one’s interlocutor. In practical terms, this translates to a lack of (effortful) accommodation for others in the conversation. Examples of maintenance include a native English speaker responding English when asked a question in French (e.g., Bourhis, 1984; Bourhis, Montaruli, & Amiot, 2007) or speakers continuing to use certain forms of address (e.g., a nickname) without regard for their interlocutor’s wishes or preferences (see Ryan, Hummert, & Boich, 1995). In each of these cases, people persist in using their typical or “normal” way of communicating, rather than adapting to a recipient’s needs or desires.

Overaccommodation: Overaccommodation occurs when speakers adjust their communication more than listeners perceive is necessary (Coupland, Coupland, Giles, & Henwood, 1988). For example, when younger adults use simplified vocabulary, high volume, and a slow speech rate when speaking to older adults who are mentally and physically healthy, older adults can experience this communication as overaccommodative (e.g., Edwards & Noller, 1993), in terms of their comprehension-related needs. Such speech is often referred to as “patronizing talk” (see Ryan et al., 1995, for a more detailed discussion). Speakers’ persistent and/or excessive use of honorific or polite language forms is another example of overaccommodation. In each of these cases, speakers are making adjustments for their listeners, but those adjustments are taken too far, from the listeners’ perspective.

Underaccommodation: Underaccommodation occurs when speakers do not adjust their communication sufficiently (i.e., enough) for listeners’ needs or desires (Coupland et al., 1988; see also Gasiorek, 2013; Williams, 1996). Examples of underaccommodation include a native speaker talking too quickly for a second language learner to comprehend, or a speaker providing an explanation filled with jargon or other vocabulary that a listener is not familiar with (and therefore cannot understand). In some cases, it is possible for a given communicative act to be simultaneously over- and underaccommodative, along different dimensions: while excessively polite speech is an instance of overaccommodation in terms of formality (i.e., register), it may also be an instance of underaccommodation of recipients’ interactional preferences (particularly if they have expressed that such language use is unnecessary or undesirable).

The concepts of over- and underaccommodation shift the focus, and defining features, of nonaccommodation from speakers’ behavior to listeners’ perceptions. These constructs originated in work on problematic intergenerational interactions (Coupland et al., 1988), which showed how the combination of speakers’ goals and the presence of particular sociopsychological “triggers” in interaction could lead speakers to communicate in ways that recipients experience as inappropriate. Indeed, speakers may enact linguistic behaviors that are objectively convergent (for example, by slowing down their speech rate to match that of another person in the conversation), but this communication can be experienced as over- or underaccommodative if listeners do not think these adjustments are appropriate in the context of the interaction. These two constructs have played a central role in an extensive program of CAT-based research on intergenerational communication practices, among other applied areas.

Behavior Versus Intentions

Whether and to what extent researchers should emphasize interactants’ behavior versus intentions in investigations and analyses of communication is a longstanding question in (non)accommodation research. Both divergence and maintenance were initially defined in terms of speakers’ behavior; as noted above, these terms originated in research that examined changes in objectively measurable characteristics of people’s verbal and nonverbal communication. However, later scholarship proposed that speakers’ beliefs about their behavior, as well as their intentions in enacting particular communication behaviors, could differ from the communicative behavior that a third party (such as a researcher) might observe (see Thakerar, Giles, & Cheshire, 1982). This led to the distinction between linguistic and psychological (non)accommodation. Linguistic (non)accommodation addresses speakers’ communicative actions: that is, speakers’ shifting qualities of their verbal or nonverbal behavior. Thus, linguistic nonaccommodation is essentially divergence in the traditional sense, as defined above. Psychological (non)accommodation addresses speakers’ intentions, motivations, and goals in a given interaction (Thakerar et al., 1982). Psychological nonaccommodation thus consists of communication that is intended to create social distance, express disaffiliation, or impede understanding.

These two dimensions were proposed to be orthogonal, which implies that it is possible to be convergent or divergent on each dimension independent of the other. Thus, communication could be divergent along both dimensions: switching to a different language to express disaffiliation and positive distinctiveness from one’s interlocutor is an example of this (e.g., Bourhis et al., 1979). However, communication could also be linguistically convergent but psychologically divergent. In intergroup encounters, people will sometimes switch to an outgroup language to prevent outgroup members from using their own (ingroup) language (see e.g., Woolard, 1989). In this case, speakers’ behavior is convergent to their interlocutor’s (because they are making their speech more similar to that of their conversational partner), but their intentions and goals are divergent (because they are acting this way as a means to maintain and emphasize intergroup divisions).

Finally, communication can be linguistically divergent but psychologically convergent. CAT has termed this situation complementarity, and it generally arises in situations where social norms dictate different behavior for different parties or roles in an interaction. For example, in a job interview, the roles of interviewer and interviewee entail different communication behaviors: an interviewer asks the questions, while an interviewee answers them. Thus, in an interview setting, the two interactants’ intonation patterns and language forms objectively differ and could thus be considered linguistically divergent. However, this is the means by which an interviewee exhibits respect and interest and by which both parties work together cooperatively to complete the interview (actions that are psychologically convergent, or accommodative). Complementary speech patterns by men and women in conversation are another example of this combination of psychological convergence accomplished by linguistic divergence (e.g., Namy, Nygaard, & Sauerteig, 2002).

As the examples highlight, when studying nonaccommodation, it is important for researchers to consider both what speakers’ intentions are and how those intentions are (likely to be) manifested in the context of a particular interaction. Depending on the goals of a research project, one might choose to privilege either intentions or behavior as the object of study.

Sources of Nonaccommodation

Intentional Nonaccommodation: Nonaccommodation can occur in a variety of different circumstances and thus have a number of possible sources. In some cases, nonaccommodation is intentional—that is, speakers want their communication to impede understanding, increase social distance, or otherwise be perceived as problematic. These motives, then, are a source of nonaccommodation. Instances of psychological divergence, described just above, can be considered intentional nonaccommodation. People can intentionally nonaccommodate with respect to either the cognitive (i.e., informational) or affective (i.e., social) function of accommodation.

In the former case, speakers’ conscious goal or focus is generally to prevent others from understanding them. Examples of this include situations where people want to keep secrets from a target, or to keep a rival team from knowing what plays will be used in a sports match. In such situations, speakers often code-switch into a language that their interlocutor does not understand or use other signals that their rivals do not know or recognize as ways to accomplish this goal.

In the latter case, speakers’ goal or focus is generally to express distinctiveness or difference from their interlocutor, thereby maintaining or increasing social distance to that person and the group(s) that person represents. One example of this is speakers “playing up” or emphasizing their accent when it contrasts to that of others in the conversation, as an expression of distinct identity (Bourhis & Giles, 1977). Another example is younger adults using patronizing talk with older adults as a way to express power and/or enact control (Hummert & Ryan, 1996). In research to date, scholars’ focus has generally been on the affective function and divergence as expressions of identity distinctiveness. The cognitive function, in turn, has received less attention.

Unintentional Nonaccommodation: Nonaccommodation can also occur unintentionally. As outlined in CAT, people make adjustments in their communication according to their estimates and/or beliefs about their conversational partners’ background, knowledge, and needs. However, these estimates are not always accurate: it is possible to make errors or mistakes in judging what other people do or do not know, understand, need, or desire (e.g., Platt & Weber, 1984; see also Williams, 1999). In some cases, speakers might not realize that someone has a characteristic or quality that is not immediately visible (e.g., being hard of hearing), and thus not adjust their communication sufficiently for this (initially invisible) need (e.g., Blockmans, 2015). In other cases, speakers might not realize that their interlocutors already know a given piece of information (e.g., what a term means, who a person is); alternatively, they might think that their interlocutors do know something that they actually do not. Because the adjustments speakers enact follow their perceptions, rather than objective reality, the former situation (i.e., someone knowing more than a speaker realizes) is likely to result in overaccommodation relative to the interlocutors’ actual knowledge and needs. The latter situation (i.e., someone knowing less than a speaker realizes), in turn, is likely to result in underaccommodation.

One means by which misestimations can occur is speakers’ (over)reliance on social group stereotypes. According to self-categorization theory (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987), when speakers categorize a listener as a member of a particular social group, they apply stereotypes of the group (i.e., features of the group prototype) to the individual in question. This information then becomes the basis for accommodative choices—that is, how a speaker adjusts their communication for that target. If the target individual is, in fact, highly prototypical, this is not necessarily problematic, because that individual’s characteristics are also those of the group prototype. However, when a target individual is not prototypical, adjusting communication for group-based stereotypes can lead speakers to adjust too much or too little relative to the target’s actual characteristics and/or needs. This process is outlined in two prominent models of problematic intergenerational communication, the age stereotypes in interaction model (Hummert, Garstka, Ryan, & Bonneson, 2004) and the communication predicament of aging model (Ryan, Giles, Bartolucci, & Henwood, 1986). In each of these models, age-based stereotypes are positioned as the precursor and cause of the quality of communication directed at older adults. Generally, this is more likely to occur in interaction when interactants do not already know each other, because these situations involve a higher reliance on group-based cues or information (Giles & Gasiorek, 2011; Hummert, Shaner, Garstka, & Henry, 1998).

Unintentional nonaccommodation can also arise through other means. When speakers and listeners come from different backgrounds or cultures, what one person perceives as “accommodative” or “appropriate” adjustment might not match the other person’s perceptions of “accommodative” or “appropriate” adjustment. This can be a result of different cultural norms for communication, or different understandings of what particular communication forms mean (e.g., Gasiorek & Van de Poel, 2012; Platt & Weber, 1984). For example, someone from a culture that values direct communication might make statements that openly express their feelings, thinking this is an appropriate and desirable way to communicate. If the recipient is from a culture that values indirect communication, they could experience this expression as inappropriate, overly explicit, or abrasive—in other words, as nonaccommodative.

In many cases of unintentional nonaccommodation, speakers may not realize that their communication is viewed as problematic. Unless interlocutors alert them to it, speakers often have no way to know that their communication is perceived as inappropriately adjusted. Unfortunately, this means that such nonaccommodation can persist for long periods of time, sometimes to such an extent that it becomes institutionalized (e.g., patronizing talk directed at older adults in nursing homes; see Sachweh, 1998; Williams, Kemper, & Hummert, 2003).

Management of Nonaccommodation

How people manage and/or respond to being a recipient of nonaccommodation depends on its form and source, as well as the interactional context. Often, issues other than the nonaccommodation itself—including intergroup dynamics, power differentials between speakers, relational history, and concerns about impression management—are important considerations in recipients’ response choices (Gasiorek, 2016b). When people are faced with linguistic divergence in bilingual settings, for example, research suggests that their choice of language (in response to divergence) depends on the other speakers’ social identity, as well as the current status of intergroup relations (e.g., Genesee & Bourhis, 1982, 1988; Lawson-Sako & Sachdev, 1996).

Researchers have identified several different strategies individuals use to address being the recipient of overaccommodation. (It should be noted that these studies have examined this issue primarily in the context of older adults’ responding to patronizing talk; thus, responses may differ in other contexts.) These include letting the overaccommodative communication pass without comment (Fox & Giles, 1996; Harwood, Ryan, Giles, & Tysoski, 1997); asserting, either politely or aggressively, that such communication is not appreciated (Hummert & Mazloff, 2001; Ryan, Anas, & Friedman, 2006); and using humor or jokes as a means to express that the overaccommodation is not appropriate (Ryan, Kennaley, Pratt, & Shumovich, 2000).

Researchers have also identified three general strategies people use to manage being the recipient of underaccommodation, which are broadly similar. First, as above, people can remain passive and ignore the nonaccommodation. Second, they can respond to it directly, calling speakers’ attention to the fact that they have experienced the communication as problematic. Third, they can respond indirectly, by taking actions that express displeasure or curtail the underaccommodative communication without necessarily explaining why they are doing so (e.g., changing the subject, nonverbally expressing negative affect or suggesting that further discussion is not welcome) (Coupland, Coupland, Giles, & Wiemann, 1988; Gasiorek, 2013).

Use of each of these strategies are associated with different consequences. In practical terms, a passive response does not indicate that recipients find speakers’ communication to be problematic. If the nonaccommodation is unintentional, this can leave speakers ignorant of how their communication is being perceived. Regardless of intentionality, this type of response does little to stop current nonaccommodation or prevent future nonaccommodation from occurring, in contrast to other strategies.

Research on responses to patronizing talk also suggests that different responses lead listeners to form different evaluations of respondents. Passive respondents are generally judged as relatively warm but not as competent, while assertive (and particularly, aggressive) respondents are generally judged as more competent, but not as warm (Harwood et al., 1997; Hummert & Mazloff, 2001; Ryan et al., 2006). Respondents who used humor were judged most positively (i.e., relatively high on both warmth and competence), but researchers have noted that humor is likely the most difficult of these strategies to enact skillfully, and that its benefits may be compromised if it comes across as sarcasm (Ryan et al., 2000).

Effects of Nonaccommodation

Generally, nonaccommodation has negative consequences for both comprehension and social relationships—that is, negative effects on both the cognitive and affective functions of accommodation.

Message Comprehension: Because nonaccommodation involves communication that is not appropriately adjusted for recipients’ needs, it can result in miscommunication (i.e., a failure to share meaning or convey a message as intended), misunderstanding, and/or communication breakdown (e.g., Coupland, Wiemann, & Giles, 1991; Hewett, Watson, & Gallois, 2015; Mustajoki, 2013). This is most likely to be the case when nonaccommodation takes the form of divergence and/or underaccommodation (Gasiorek, 2016b); however, it can also follow from forms of overaccommodation (Kemper & Harden, 1999; Kemper, Othick, Warren, Gubarchuk, & Gerhing, 1996). As discussed above, hindering or preventing comprehension can sometimes be what speakers intend; in other cases, however, it is not. Regardless of intentionality, nonaccommodation that compromises understanding can have quite serious real-life consequences. Research on communication in multidisciplinary medical teams has found, for example, that problems in communication between doctors is associated with more negative patient health outcomes (Hewett, Watson, Gallois, Ward, & Leggett, 2009).

Interpersonal and Intergroup Relations: Nonaccommodation can also affect how people relate to each other at on both interpersonal and intergroup levels. In a recent meta-analysis of CAT empirical studies, Soliz and Giles (2014) found that nonaccommodation was associated with more negative evaluations of groups and individuals, greater perceptions of group difference, and more negative evaluations of both quality of contact and relational solidarity (with effect sizes ranging from .13 to .35). In short, nonaccommodation is generally associated with negative relational outcomes, at the levels of both the individual and the group. As noted earlier, sometimes this is what speakers intend; when their goal is to express distinctiveness, difference, or disapproval (e.g., Bourhis & Giles, 1977), most forms of nonaccommodation effectively accomplish this. In a limited set of cases, divergence as an expression of difference this could be perceived positively by all involved: if members of two groups actively dislike or are competing with each other, then each group may see divergent communication as appropriate (e.g., Doise, Sinclair, & Bourhis, 1976). However, in most other circumstances, regardless of intentionality, these outcomes can be experienced as negative or harmful by both parties and can contribute to poor interpersonal and intergroup relations.

Role of Recipients’ Perceptions: Research has demonstrated that evaluations of both nonaccommodative communication and speakers depend on peoples’ perceptions of speakers’ motives (e.g., Gasiorek & Giles, 2012; Giles & Gasiorek, 2013; Harwood & Giles, 1996; Simard, Taylor, & Giles, 1976; Williams, 1996). When people perceive nonaccommodation to be either unintentional or positively motivated (e.g., that a speaker is trying to help or has good intentions), they generally evaluate both the communication and speaker less negatively than when they perceive nonaccommodation to be negatively motivated (e.g., that a speaker is trying to be harmful or has bad intentions). Gasiorek and Giles (2015) have proposed that inferred motive may, in fact, operate as a precursor to perceptions of (non)accommodation. Across studies, inferred motive has emerged as a stronger predictor of evaluations of both speakers and their communication than has perceived accommodation (i.e., how appropriately adjusted a speaker’s communication is) (e.g., Gasiorek & Giles, 2012, 2015). These findings underscore the importance of accounting not only for speakers’ behavior but also recipients’ (varying) perceptions of that behavior when explaining and predicting the effects of nonaccommodation.

Applied Research

In various forms, nonaccommodation has been studied across a range of applied intergroup domains (for recent examples see Giles, 2012; Giles & Maass, 2016). The most well-developed of these research areas are arguably ethnolinguistic relations (i.e., interactions between speakers with different accents, dialects, or languages, representing different ethnic and/or language groups; Bourhis, 1979; Giles, Bourhis, & Taylor, 1977) and intergenerational interactions (e.g., Hummert, 2012). The former was a particularly well-represented area of study in early speech accommodation research, where nonaccommodation was typically conceptualized as divergence or maintenance. The latter, in turn, has focused primarily on overaccommodation (e.g., as patronizing talk), though some work has also addressed underaccommodation (e.g., Bonnesen & Hummert, 2002).

Other applied areas in which nonaccommodation has been studied include communication in families (e.g., Harwood, 2000; Soliz & Harwood, 2006; Speer, Giles, & Denes, 2013), educational contexts (e.g., Mazer & Hunt, 2008), healthcare settings (e.g., Hewett et al., 2015; Farzadnia & Giles, 2015; Watson, Hewett, & Gallois, 2012), service professions (e.g., Platt & Weber, 1984), and between police and civilians (e.g., Giles, Linz, Bonilla, & Leah, 2012; Myers, Giles, Reid, & Nabi, 2008). Across these domains, a common theme is the presence of multiple, distinct social groups with different characteristics, goals, and norms that influence how people communicate and relate to each other. Although nonaccommodation does not necessarily occur in intergroup settings, and intergroup settings do not necessarily involve nonaccommodation, these two do frequently co-occur and can both cause and reinforce each other.

Discussion and Future Directions

Research on nonaccommodation has unfolded across decades and been shaped by the contributions of many different researchers. This has resulted in a rich body of theoretical and empirical work on this topic but has also led to some challenges. First and perhaps foremost, the label “nonaccommodation” has come to denote a number of different and conceptually distinct phenomena. Some of these are defined in terms of behavior (i.e., linguistic divergence and maintenance), others in terms of intentions (i.e., psychological divergence and maintenance), and still others in terms of perceptions (i.e., over- and underaccommodation). This can cause confusion for researchers new to the area and places an onus of responsibility on scholars doing both empirical and theoretical work to clearly define the terms they choose to use.

CAT was originally a theory focused on communicative behavior, but in the last few decades, increasing attention has been paid to psychological variables, and conceptualizations of the theory’s key constructs have shifted (or multiplied, depending on one’s perspective) accordingly. These changes have brought new opportunities for researchers but also created challenges. Behavior, intentions, and perceptions each make a unique contribution to our understanding of human interaction, and so each rightfully has a place in discussions of how people understand, experience, and respond to nonaccommodation. The evaluations and communicative responses that follow from nonaccommodation are best predicted by recipients’ perceptions, because people react to what they experience. However, these experiences are in large part dictated by the “raw material” provided by speakers’ behavior; members of a given culture and/or social group tend to interpret behaviors in similar ways (Gallois & Callan, 1988). Speakers’ behavior, in turn, generally follows from their intentions.

However, few (if any) empirical investigations of nonaccommodation directly or thoroughly address all three of these dimensions of interaction. Instead, studies typically focus on one and treat the others as transparent or unproblematic. While this is a pragmatic approach to studying a multifaceted phenomenon, particularly when researchers have limited resources, it also misses some of the complexities of nonaccommodation in practice. For example, objectively (i.e., linguistically) divergent speech can be intended an expression of disaffiliation, positive distinctiveness, defiance, or antipathy (among other possibilities). A listener could perceive it as any one of these, or something else completely, and these perceptions have direct consequences for that listener’s response, and how the interaction subsequently plays out. Thus, one direction for future research is to examine the intersection, and interaction, of behavior, intentions, and perceptions. This will require more ambitious empirical projects, with designs that incorporate the perspectives of multiple interactants in a conversation (not just one, as in classic vignette studies), as well as objective analyses of their behavior.

Understanding how interactants perceive and engaged with each other’s perspectives (and following from that, intentions) is another, related direction for future work. Here, the construct of perspective-taking, defined as the “situated process of forming ideas about the content of another person’s mental state” (Gasiorek & Ebesu Hubbard, 2017; see also Galinsky, Ku, & Wang, 2005; Goldstein, Vezich, & Shapiro, 2014), may be a useful resource on which to draw. Failures or inaccuracies in perspective-taking can be a source of misestimations of recipients’ communicative needs, leading speakers to unintentionally over- or underaccommodate. How and to what extent recipients of nonaccommodation take speakers’ perspectives may also influence how they interpret the situation. A recent study by Gasiorek (2015) found that the more participants reported being able to take their conversational partners’ perspective in a problematic interaction, the more positively motivated they perceived those partners’ nonaccommodative communication to be. However, very few other CAT studies explicitly address whether and how interactants engage with each other’s perspective in interaction. This is an area that would benefit from more theoretical and empirical work.

Addressing complexities of real-world interactions is another related direction for future research. Theorizing on (non)accommodation tends to implicitly assume that interactions involve only two parties, and thus that accommodation is a function of just those individuals and/or the social groups they represent. However, many applied contexts involve more than just two parties, or groups, that a speaker may want or need to consider. How, for example, do instructors (best) adjust their communication for a classroom of students with varying levels of knowledge about a topic to minimize simultaneously over- and underaccommodating? How do individuals address situations in which there are both interlocutors and bystanders with different group memberships? In what way does the presence of an ingroup or outgroup bystander influence how people communication with ingroup or outgroup members? Answering such questions will require thoughtful study designs that include measures of both psychological states and communicative behavior, but should be worth the effort.

A final direction that work on real-world complexities could take is examining nonaccommodation as a dynamic phenomenon. To date, nearly all studies of nonaccommodation have been cross-sectional, focusing on a single communicative event (either naturally occurring or crafted by a researcher) that occurs at one point in time. However, people can and do experience multiple instances of nonaccommodation from the same speaker, both within a single conversation and in multiple conversations across time. Theoretical models like the communication predicament of aging model (Hummert et al., 2004; Ryan et al., 1986) argue that the accumulation of nonaccommodative experiences over time can have negative physical and psychological effects, but few empirical studies actually test these claims across multiple time points. Thus, examining the effects of repeated and/or accumulated nonaccommodation is one direction for this work.

A second potential avenue would be examining how (non)accommodation shifts dynamically within a conversation. Theoretical work on both social categorization and intergroup communication highlights the dynamic nature of social identity salience: depending on what interactants say and do, the importance of different social identities can rapidly increase or decrease (e.g., Dragojevic & Giles, 2014; Turner et al., 1987), with speakers’ accommodative moves following these shifts. However, there is relatively little research that systematically examines how communicative adjustments (intentionally or unintentionally) follow multiple and/or dynamic changes in identity salience and what effects it has for interlocutors. Research in all of these areas would contribute to extending our understanding of nonaccommodation as an interactive, dynamic, and co-constructed phenomenon as it occurs in complex and diverse real-world settings.

Further Reading

Bourhis, R. Y., & Giles, H. (1977). The language of intergroup distinctiveness. In H. Giles (Ed.), Language, ethnicity and intergroup relations (pp. 119–135). London: Academic Press.Find this resource:

Coupland, N., Coupland, J., & Giles, H. (1991). Language, society and the elderly: Discourse, identity and ageing. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Find this resource:

Coupland, N., Coupland, J., Giles, H., & Henwood, K. (1988). Accommodating the elderly: Invoking and extending a theory. Language in Society, 17, 1–41.Find this resource:

Gasiorek, J. (2016). The “dark side” of CAT: Nonaccommodation. In H. Giles (Ed.), Communication accommodation theory: Negotiating personal and social identities across contexts (pp. 85–104). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Gasiorek, J., & Giles, H. (2012). Effects of inferred motive on evaluations of nonaccommodative communication. Human Communication Research, 38, 309–332.Find this resource:

Giles, H. (Ed.). (2016). Communication accommodation theory: Negotiating personal and social identities across contexts. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University PressFind this resource:

Harwood, J., & Giles, H. (1996). Reactions to older people being patronized: The roles of response strategies and attributed thoughts. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 15, 395–421.Find this resource:

O’Connor, B. P., & Rigby, H. (1996). Perceptions of baby talk, frequency of receiving baby talk, and self-esteem among community and nursing home residents. Psychology and Aging, 11(1), 147.Find this resource:

Shepard, C. A., Giles, H., & LePoire, B. A. (2001). Communication accommodation theory. In W. P. Robinson & H. Giles (Eds.), The new handbook of language and social psychology (pp. 33–56). Chichester, U.K.: Wiley.Find this resource:

Soliz, J., & Giles, H. (2014). Relational and identity processes in communication: A contextual and meta-analytical review of Communication Accommodation Theory. In E. Cohen (Ed.), Communication yearbook38 (pp. 106–143). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Thakerar, J. N., Giles, H., & Cheshire, J. (1982). Psychological and linguistic parameters of speech accommodation theory. In C. Fraser & K. R. Scherer (Eds.), Advances in the social psychology of language (pp. 205–255). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Ryan, E. B., Hummert, M. L., & Boich, L. H. (1995). Communication predicaments of aging: Patronizing behavior toward older adults. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 14, 144–166.Find this resource:

Williams, A. (1996). Young people’s evaluations of intergenerational versus peer underaccommodation: Sometimes older is better? Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 15, 291–311.Find this resource:

Williams, A. (1999). Communication accommodation theory and miscommunication: Issues of awareness and communication dilemmas. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 9, 151–165.Find this resource:


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Bourhis, R. Y. (1979). Language in ethnic interaction: A social psychological approach. In H. Giles & B. Saint-Jacques (Eds.), Language and ethnic relations (pp. 117–141). Oxford: Pergamon Press.Find this resource:

Bourhis, R. Y. (1984). Cross-cultural communication in Montreal: Two field studies since Bill 101. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 46, 33–47.Find this resource:

Bourhis, R. Y., & Giles, H. (1977). The language of intergroup distinctiveness. In H. Giles (Ed.), Language, ethnicity and intergroup relations (pp. 119–135). London: Academic Press.Find this resource:

Bourhis, R. Y., Giles, H., Leyens, J-P., & Tajfel, H. (1979). Psycholinguistic distinctiveness: Language divergence in Belgium. In H. Giles & R. N. St. Clair (Eds.), Language and social psychology (pp. 158–185). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Find this resource:

Bourhis, R. Y., Montaruli, E., & Amiot, C. E. (2007). Language planning and French-English bilingual communication: Montreal field studies from 1977 to 1997. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2007, 187–224.Find this resource:

Coupland, N., Coupland, J., Giles, H., & Henwood, K. (1988). Accommodating the elderly: Invoking and extending a theory. Language in Society, 17, 1–41.Find this resource:

Coupland, J., Coupland, N., Giles, H., & Wiemann, J. M. (1988). My life in your hands: Processes of self-disclosure in intergenerational talk. In N. Coupland (Ed.), Styles of discourse (pp. 201–253). London: Croom Helm.Find this resource:

Coupland, N., Wiemann, J. M., & Giles, H. (1991). Talk as “problem” and communication as “miscommunication.” An integrative analysis. In N. Coupland, H. Giles, & J. M. Wiemann (Eds.), “Miscommunication” and problematic talk (pp. 1–17). Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

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Dragojevic, M., Gasiorek, J., & Giles, H. (2016). Accommodative strategies as core of CAT. In H. Giles (Ed.), Communication accommodation theory: Negotiating personal and social identities across contexts (pp. 36–59). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Dragojevic, M., & Giles, H. (2014). Language and interpersonal communication: Their intergroup dynamics. In C. R. Berger (Ed.), Handbook of interpersonal communication (pp. 29–51). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.Find this resource:

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Fox, S. A., & Giles, H. (1996). Interability communication: Evaluating patronizing encounters. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 15, 265–290.Find this resource:

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Gallois, C., & Callan, V. (1988). Communication accommodation and the prototypical speaker: Predicting evaluations of status and solidarity. Language and Communication, 8, 271–283.Find this resource:

Gallois, C., Ogay, T., & Giles, H. (2005). Communication accommodation theory. In W. Gundykunst (Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 121–148). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Gasiorek, J. (2013). “I was impolite to her because that’s how she was to me”: Perceptions of motive and young adults’ communicative responses to underaccommodation. Western Journal of Communication, 77, 604–624.Find this resource:

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Gasiorek, J. (2016a). Theoretical perspectives on communication adjustment in interaction. In H. Giles (Ed.), Communication accommodation theory: Negotiating personal and social identities across contexts (pp. 13–35). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Gasiorek, J. (2016b). The “dark side” of CAT: Nonaccommodation. In H. Giles (Ed.), Communication accommodation theory: Negotiating personal and social identities across contexts (pp. 85–104). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Gasiorek, J., & Ebesu Hubbard, A. S. (2017). Perspectives on perspective taking in communication research. Review of Communication, 17(2), 87–105.Find this resource:

Gasiorek, J., & Giles, H. (2012). Effects of inferred motive on evaluations of nonaccommodative communication. Human Communication Research, 38, 309–332.Find this resource:

Gasiorek, J., & Giles, H. (2015). The role of inferred motive in processing nonaccommodation: Evaluations of communication and speakers. Western Journal of Communication, 79, 456–471.Find this resource:

Gasiorek, J., & Van de Poel, K. (2012). Divergent perspectives on language-discordant mobile medical professionals’ communication with colleagues: An exploratory study. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 40, 368–383.Find this resource:

Genesee, F., & Bourhis, R. Y. (1982). The social psychological significance of code- switching in cross-cultural communication. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 1, 1–28.Find this resource:

Genesee, F., & Bourhis, R. Y. (1988). Evaluative reactions to language choice strategies: The role of sociostructural factors. Language and Communication, 8(3–4), 229–250.Find this resource:

Giles, H. (Ed.). (2012). The handbook of intergroup communication. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Giles, H., Bourhis, R. Y., & Taylor, D. M. (1977). Toward a theory of language in ethnic group relations. In H. Giles (Ed.), Language and intergroup relations (pp. 307–348). London: Academic Press.Find this resource:

Giles, H., & Gasiorek, J. (2011). Intergenerational communication practices. In K. W. Schaie & S. Willis (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of aging (7th ed., pp. 231–245). New York: Elsevier.Find this resource:

Giles, H., & Gasiorek, J. (2013). Parameters of non-accommodation: Refining and elaborating communication accommodation theory. In J. Forgas, J. László, & V. Orsolya (Eds.), Social cognition and communication (pp. 155–172). New York: Psychology Press.Find this resource:

Giles, H., Linz, D., Bonilla, D., & Leah, M. (2012). Police stops of and interactions with Latino and White (non-Latino) drivers: Extensive policing and communication accommodation. Communication Monographs, 79, 407–427.Find this resource:

Giles, H. & Maass, A. (Eds.) (2016). Advances in intergroup communication. New York: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

Giles, H., Scherer, K. R., & Taylor, D. M. (1979). Speech markers in social interaction. In K. R. Scherer & H. Giles (Eds.), Social markers in speech (pp. 343–381). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Giles, H., & Soliz, J. (2014). Communication accommodation theory: A situated framework for interpersonal, family, and intergroup dynamics. In D. Braithewaite & P. Schrodt (Eds), Engaging interpersonal theories (2d. ed., pp. 157–169). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Goldstein, N. J., Vezich, I. S., & Shapiro, J. R. (2014). Perceived perspective taking: When others walk in our shoes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 941–960.Find this resource:

Harwood, J. (2000). Communicative predictors of solidarity in the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 743–766.Find this resource:

Harwood, J., & Giles, H. (1996). Reactions to older people being patronized: The roles of response strategies and attributed thoughts. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 15, 395–421.Find this resource:

Harwood, J., Ryan, E. B., Giles, H., & Tysoski, S. (1997). Evaluations of patronizing speech and three response styles in a non-service-providing context. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 25, 170–195.Find this resource:

Hewett, D. G., Watson, B. M., & Gallois, C. (2015). Communication between hospital doctors: Underaccommodation and interpretability. Language and Communication, 41, 71–83.Find this resource:

Hewett, D. G., Watson, B. M., Gallois, C., Ward, M., & Leggett, B. A. (2009). Intergroup communication between hospital doctors: implications for quality of patient care. Social Science and Medicine, 69, 1732–1740.Find this resource:

Hummert, M. L. (2012). Challenges and opportunitiews for communication between age groups. In H. Giles (Ed.), The handbook of intergroup communication (pp. 223–236). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Hummert, M. L., Garstka, T. A., Ryan, E. B., & Bonneson, J. L. (2004). The role of age stereotypes in interpersonal communication. In J. Coupland & J. F. Nussbaum (Eds.), Handbook of communication and aging research (pp. 91–114). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Find this resource:

Hummert, M. L., & Mazloff, D. C. (2001). Older adults’ responses to patronizing advice: Balancing politeness and identity in context. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 20, 168–196.Find this resource:

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Namy, L. L., Nygaard, L. C., & Sauerteig, D. (2002). Gender differences in vocal accommodation: The role of perception. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 21, 422–432.Find this resource:

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Ryan, E. B., Giles, H., Bartolucci, G., & Henwood, K. (1986). Psycholinguistic and social psychological components of communication by and with the elderly. Language and Communication, 6(1–2), 1–24.Find this resource:

Ryan, E. B., Hummert, M. L., & Boich, L. H. (1995). Communication predicaments of aging: Patronizing behavior toward older adults. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 14, 144–166.Find this resource:

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Soliz, J., & Giles, H. (2014). Relational and identity processes in communication: A contextual and meta-analytical review of Communication Accommodation Theory. In E. Cohen (Ed.), Communication yearbook38 (pp. 106–143). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Soliz, J., & Harwood, J. (2006). Shared family identity, age salience, and intergroup contact: Investigation of the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Communication Monographs, 73, 87–107.Find this resource:

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Thakerar, J. N., Giles, H., & Cheshire, J. (1982). Psychological and linguistic parameters of speech accommodation theory. In C. Fraser & K. R. Scherer (Eds.), Advances in the social psychology of language (pp. 205–255). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

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