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Article

Jessica Gasiorek

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.

Article

Group memberships provide a system of orientation for self-definition and self-reference in the process of relating to and managing social distance with others, and the use of language and communication serve central roles in the processes. In the nearly four decades since its inception as speech accommodation theory, communication accommodation theory has been used in multidisciplinary, multilingual, and multicultural contexts for understanding when, how, and why we, as speakers, accommodate to each other’s languages and styles of communication. In CAT’s theoretical domain, accommodation refers to the ability, willingness, and strategies to adjust, modify, or regulate individuals’ language use and communication behaviors. Specifically, approximation strategies such as convergence, divergence, maintenance, and complementarity are conceptualized in the earlier developmental stages of CAT, with other strategies such as interpretability, discourse management, and interpersonal control added to the list at later stages. With its strong intergroup features, CAT is a robust theory that offers explicit motivational analysis to account for intergroup communication behaviors and intergroup relations. Blossomed initially in a multilingual and multicultural context in Quebec, Canada in the 1970s, CAT connects well with other existing theories on cultural adaptation, intergroup contact, and intergroup relations. Yet, CAT distinguishes itself from other theories as it attends to the interactive communication acts and processes and relates them to other sociocultural constructs, while interpreting and predicting the social, relational, and identity outcomes.

Article

At the heart of cancer communication research is an effort both to increase knowledge and to identify practical strategies for improving cancer communication and for improving prevention and control of cancer, as well as for addressing cancer care issues from theoretical and applied communication perspectives across the continuum of cancer care. One important theoretical approach to consider in cancer communication science is taking an intergroup approach to cancer care. The challenge moving forward is to develop cancer communication research programs that combine important theoretical and applied perspectives, focusing on prevention strategies that can help reduce cancer risk, incidence, morbidity, and mortality, and to promote the highest quality of life for people of every age and every background.

Article

A communication style is the way people communicate with others, verbally and nonverbally. It combines both language and nonverbal cues and is the meta-message that dictates how listeners receive and interpret verbal messages. Of the theoretical perspectives proposed to understand cultural variations in communication styles, the most widely cited one is the differentiation between high-context and low-context communication by Edward Hall, in 1976. Low-context communication is used predominantly in individualistic cultures and reflects an analytical thinking style, where most of the attention is given to specific, focal objects independent of the surrounding environment; high-context communication is used predominantly in collectivistic cultures and reflects a holistic thinking style, where the larger context is taken into consideration when evaluating an action or event. In low-context communication, most of the meaning is conveyed in the explicit verbal code, whereas in high-context communication, most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, with very little information given in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. The difference can be further explicated through differences between communication styles that are direct and indirect (whether messages reveal or camouflage the speaker’s true intentions), self-enhancing and self-effacing (whether messages promote or deemphasize positive aspects of the self), and elaborate and understated (whether rich expressions or extensive use of silence, pauses, and understatements characterize the communication). These stylistic differences can be attributed to the different language structures and compositional styles in different cultures, as many studies supporting the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis have shown. These stylistic differences can become, in turn, a major source of misunderstanding, distrust, and conflict in intercultural communication. A case in point is how the interethnic clash between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs can be exacerbated by the two diametrically opposite communication patterns they each have, dugri (straight talk) and musayra (to accommodate or “to go along with”). Understanding differences in communication styles and where these differences come from allows us to revise the interpretive frameworks we tend to use to evaluate culturally different others and is a crucial step toward gaining a greater understanding of ourselves and others.

Article

Death is inevitable: We witness the death of others and eventually face our own. However, people in general view death as taboo and tend to avoid discussing their own or others’ mortality. A cultural shift has been taking place in the developed world so that dying has become an increasingly medicalized process, where death is viewed as something to be stopped or delayed instead of accepted as part of a natural life cycle. As family members are less responsible for the dying process, communication about death and dying becomes a sensitive topic and is often ignored or avoided. Lack of this meaningful communication can lead to stereotypes about the dying person, conflict among family members, and fear of death. Talking about death and dying, if done correctly, can have a positive impact on health-care delivery and the bereavement process. Incorporating knowledge of intergroup communication with a lifespan approach can deepen communication effectiveness about death and dying. People’s group identities can play important roles in the conversation about death and dying. As children and adolescents, people can encounter the death of older family members (e.g., grandparents) and the communication here can be intergenerational. Due to age differences, younger adults may feel uncomfortable to react to older adults’ painful disclosure of death and the bereavement process. During adulthood, people deal with the death uncertainty for themselves and their loved ones. The communication in this period can be intergenerational and inter-occupational, especially when there are third parties involved (e.g., medical providers or legal authorities). Death and dying communication tend to happen mostly, albeit not always, during the later lifespan, as time of death approaches, among older adults, family members, and medical providers. These conversations include advanced care planning (i.e., arrangements and plans about the dying process and after death), medical decision making, palliative care, and final talks. Increasing the awareness of death and dying can help to normalize the dying process.

Article

Families are not immune from intergroup processes that pervade other social relationships and institutions in society. Family relationships are often constituted by individuals with different identities and worldviews, especially when considering the changing landscape of families (e.g., multiethnic–multiracial families, interfaith families). Moreover, many of our most personal relationships emerge from the joining of two distinct familial groups (e.g., in-laws, stepfamily members). Whether considering different social identities salient in family interactions (e.g., ethnicity-race, age, political affiliation) or formative dynamics as families merge, intergroup communication processes are central to managing difference in a constructive manner that facilitates development of a shared family identity and individual well-being. Further, an intergroup perspective on family highlights the manner in which families directly and indirectly socialize family members’ intergroup attitudes and worldviews.

Article

Intergroup communication concerns the verbal and nonverbal interaction between individuals from different groups. Since about the 1980s, the social identity perspective (including social identity, self-categorization, ethnolinguistic vitality, and communication accommodation theories) has provided much impetus to research on intergroup communication. One way to advance intergroup communication research, then, is to expand the social identity perspective. Evolutionary psychology, a research program firmly rooted in natural selection theory and its modern synthesis, can help achieve this goal. For example, a functional analysis of language acquisition suggests—and research confirms—that language (similar to sex and age but not race) is a dedicated dimension of social categorization. This is first of all because language is localized, with signal regularities (e.g., grammar, syntax) being meaningful only to in-group members. Second, there is a critical window of language acquisition that typically closes at late adolescence, and one can almost never reach native-level proficiency if the person tries to learn a language beyond that window. Thus, two people are very likely to have grown up in the same place if they speak the same language with similar high levels of proficiency. Conversely, the lack of proficiency in speaking a language suggests that one does not have the same childhood experience as others and is thus an out-group member. Because ancestral humans had recurrent exposure to people speaking different languages (or variants of the same language) even given their limited travel ability, language-based categorization appears to be an evolved part of human nature. Evolutionary theories can also help renovate research on ethnolinguistic vitality and (non)accommodation. For example, an analysis of host-parasite coevolution suggests that maintaining and using one’s own language can help reduce the risk of contracting foreign diseases in places with high parasite stress. This is because out-group members are more likely than in-group members to carry diseases that one’s physiological immune system cannot tackle. Intergroup differentiation is thus needed more in places with higher parasite stress, and language (as noted) reliably marks group membership. It thus benefits people living in parasite-laden environments to stick to their own language, which helps them remain close to in-group members and away from out-group members. Research also shows that increases in perceived parasitic threats cause people higher in pathogen disgust sensitivity to perceive speakers with foreign accents as being more dissimilar to self. This enhanced perceived dissimilarity may cause non-accommodation or divergence in intergroup communication, resulting in negative language attitudes and even intergroup conflicts. These and many other areas of research uniquely identified by evolutionary approaches to intergroup communication research await further empirical tests.

Article

How can one sustain a conversation, let alone maintain effective communication, in a country whose residents speak numerous languages? India defies the conventional wisdom of the monolithic model of communication—one language, one nation—which views linguistic pluralism as problematic and counterintuitive. The monolingual mindset equates multingualism with linguistic, societal, and political fragmentation and, consequently, a serious threat to national unity and economic prosperity. Based on an in-depth study of language and communication in India, it is argued that such a narrow and unnatural mindset is outmoded. In particular, a reconceptualization of multilingual realities in India provides ample evidence in support of communication accommodation theory. The approach adopted to capture the dynamics of Indian multilingualism centers on the tools and mechanism of natural pluralism, which hold a key to intergroup and intercultural communication. Four linguistic networks of communication are described, following both the top-down and bottom-up approaches to multilingual communication. Additionally, it is revealed that three giant languages, the linguistic pillars of India—Sanskrit, Persian, and English—played, and continue to play, a central role in determining the salient feature of Indian multilingualism—its vitality and sustainability is achieved through diffusion of diverse languages and sociocultural contexts of communication. Additionally, literature and other forces, such as globalization (precolonial and postcolonial trade), powerful media and entertainment (e.g., Bollywood films and regional film media), internal migration, and education policies, among other factors, further strengthened the foundation of multilingualism and language accommodation. Various manifestations of multiple identities are described in the context of language naming and language reporting in the census. Finally, the salient linguistic and social contexts of Indian multilingualism are identified, while focusing on speakers’ language choices and language use grounded in individual/family, social, and political multilingualism, which ensured an uninterrupted tradition of plurilingualism. The complex interplay between bilingual verbal behavior—including language shifting and language mixing—with language attitudes and language rivalry is instructive in gaining insights into both language maintenance and language death. In that process, it is revealed that one of the salient features of Indian multilingualism is its natural and sustainable character, rather than a transient trend leading to language death. What is even more remarkable is that it is not imposed by language ideology and rigorous language planning by the government. To best characterize the multifaceted dimensions of multilingual communication in India, this chapter focuses on the contemporary and historical study of Indian languages and their spread in diasporic contexts, both intranational (e.g., from North to South India) and international. An attempt has also been made to uncover dimensions of multilingualism that have been neglected in the communication landscape of India (e.g., empowering of rural varieties of speech). For comparison and contrast purposes, other countries are also referred to.