accommodation in action

I had this fantastic conversation in a shop this morning. The assistant came up saying, as if straight out of the North of England, “Alright love?” With [w] or [ʋ] for /r/ and a definite [ʊ] in love.

I said, “Do you have any liquorice?” With, it transpires, a serious [ɾ] for the /r/. (I needed to ask – really wasn’t interested in Bassett’s.)

He immediately switched and said, “Liquo[ɾ]ice?” Precisely as I’d said it. “Have a look over here.”

And was impeccably Scottish from then on.

So: well-adjusted Anglo? or Scot who just expected shoppers to be English?

8 thoughts on “accommodation in action

  1. That’s true, actually. I wonder if he was just putting it on to start with! That would definitely be evidence of Scottishness, if he got them mixed up. I’m positive it was the northern love, but wouldn’t be definite about the r/w thing.



  2. How does accommodatory speech happen? Does everybody do it, all the time? Or just some people, at some times? (Why? Do they know they’re doing it?)

    I’m guessing there’s a hard core of speakers who NEVER accommodate their speech to others. I’d hazard that these people are most likely to have pronounced versions of their regional accents. Am I right? Or just numerically palindromical (2002)?


  3. Sorry, you’re 2003!

    I would hazard the opinion (though an actual sociolinguist might like to confirm/dispute) that everyone does it all the time, although to different degrees.

    It’s usually not deliberate, I think, although sometimes it can be quite noticeable to other people (if someone has a Phone Voice eg) – but even when someone knows they’re doing it, they’re probably not conscious of the subtleties of what they’re doing. Some features of a different accent are always salient (eg glottal stops, tapped Rs), although I don’t know whether the salient features are necessarily the first to be accommodated to, but in any case finer details like the backness or height of a vowel are much harder to bring to overt awareness for people to know exactly what they’re doing.

    Why – who knows. (Sociolinguists?)


  4. Psycholinguistics … what happens millisecond by millisecond when you process a bit of language material

    Clinical linguistics – language impairments

    First language acquisition – how children learn language

    (these two are pretty fab, i do sort of a combination of them :-) )

    stuff to do with brains, differences in blood flow to different areas of the brain when you listen to speech or speak

    semantics – the meaning of words/sentences – pragmatics – why it’s wrong to simply say “yes” when someone says “can you pass the salt”

    historical linguistics – how sounds/words/syntax change over time

    basically, LOADS of cool stuff

    … I think I would have been a sociolinguist in another life …


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