Convergence and divergence in bilingual education
According to accommodation theory, there are two main strategies: convergence and divergence. Convergence occurs when the speaker adjusts his or her normal speech to make it more similar to the interlocutor’s speech, or when the speaker converges to a prestige norm that he or she believes is preferred by the interlocutor. In short, the speaker accepts the interlocutor’s values and seeks to demonstrate this acceptance through his own linguistic behavior.
Conversely, divergence occurs when speakers seek to change their speech to make themselves linguistically distinct. Both convergence and divergence can occur in an upward or downward direction. Upward convergence occurs when speakers adjust their speech to reflect the norms of high-ranking individuals in their society. Downward convergence involves adjustments in the direction of speech norms from a higher class to a lower class.
For example, a person with a PhD in physics will speak differently when explaining quantum mechanics to a high school dropout than when discussing physics with colleagues; that is, the physicist will use language in a way designed to simplify complex concepts for his or her less educated interlocutor. In general, upward convergence is the more common type because it is based on the universal desire for approval from those we respect and emulate.
Upward divergence occurs when speakers emphasize standard features of their speech, while downward divergence occurs when speakers emphasize nonstandard features of their speech. An example of upward divergence would be two people of different classes arguing, with the individual from a higher socioeconomic background emphasizing the standard features of his speech to differentiate himself from the lower class interlocutor. In the same example, the person of lower socioeconomic status who emphasizes his less standard form of speech would exhibit downward divergence.
The reasons for convergence and divergence can be complex. One of the most famous studies on accommodation theory was initiated by Giles and his colleagues. It is about conversations between unequal nurses and how convergence and divergence operate based on their ability to use English. The results showed that when speaking with lower-ranking nurses, those with higher status used less standard English; likewise, when lower-status nurses spoke with their higher-ranking colleagues, they spoke more standard English.
Furthermore, people are more likely to transform their speech rate in a way that highlights the stereotype of their interlocutors’ speech rate and language use. Also, speakers tend to move from convergence to divergence as they reevaluate the person they are talking to during the conversation.
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