What makes us subconsciously mimic the accents of others in conversation
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People tend to converge toward the language they observe around them, whether it's copying word choices, mirroring sentence structures, mimicking pronunciations or mimicking speech sounds they expect to hear - even if they never actually hear them. Linguists call this phenomenon "linguistic convergence.
Convergence refers to the shifts people make to their speech to approximate that of those around them.
Code-switching or style-shifting can also be examples of convergence, as long as the shift is toward an interlocutor – the person you’re talking to. But people can also shift away from an interlocutor, and this is called “divergence.”
Code-switching and style-shifting can occur for other reasons, too, like how you feel, what you’re talking about and how you want to be perceived. You might drop your G’s more and say things like “thinkin’” when reminiscing about a prank you played in high school.
Accentual convergence means that people perceive accents as coherent collections of different linguistic features.
Over exaggerated convergence can be perceived as mocking or patronizing.
If you don't have an actual speech target to converge toward, you might resort to inaccurate, simplistic or stereotyped ideas about how someone will speak.
However, subtler shifts - in what might be called the "sweet spot" of convergence - can have a number of benefits, from social approval to more efficient and successful communication.
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