Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Get a room

The language of lovers is often pretty sickening. It's even worse when you hear it murmured into a hands free mobile by the lovestruck man sitting next to you on a train, like I had to put up with this morning. But it's not just the babytalk-style phonology, or the wrinkling of the nose, or even the giggles of love, it's the vocabulary as well: snugglebunny, lickle lovebucket, poo poo poppet and agreeable bitch, being some examples. Actually the last two aren't his (and neither are the first two, to be fair) but Jonathan Swift's.

Now, some research  from psychologists in the USA suggests that people are attracted to those who have similar speech patterns. That may not be particularly surprising (unless you're Paula Abdul) but what's quite interesting about this is that the patterns seems to apply to online style as well as as spoken.

Research by the same team at the University of Texas has also indicated that language style matching (LSM) is apparent between couples when they're at their happiest in a relationship.

This is related to accommodation theory in sociolinguistics, where people change their speech style to either converge towards or diverge from other speakers around them. The extremes of divergence are noticeable in teenagers when they sometimes make deliberate efforts to avoid the speech styles of their parents, or in students with strong regional dialects who make a conscious effort not to blend in when they live in a different area, but it's not really much of a surprise to find that the closer we are emotionally, the closer we get linguistically.

This could make an interesting Language Investigation at A2: recording conversations between people who have been together for different lengths of time and identifying specific linguistic features that match or don't match.

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