Monique Patenaude, for the University of Rochester’s NewsCenter:
As social creatures, we tend to mimic each other’s posture, laughter, and other behaviors, including how we speak. Now a new study shows that people with similar views tend to more closely mirror, or align, each other’s speech patterns. In addition, people who are better at compromising align more closely.
“Few people are aware that they alter their word pronunciation, speech rate, and even the structure of their sentences during conversation,” explained Florian Jaeger, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester and coauthor of the study recently published in Language Variation and Change. “What we have found is that the degree to which speakers align is socially mediated.”
“Our social judgments about others and our general attitude toward conflict are affecting even the most automatic and subconscious aspects of how we express ourselves with language,” said lead-author Kodi Weatherholtz, a post-doctoral researcher in Jaeger’s lab.
I find this fascinating because it’s something I’ve noticed with my own speech. I’ve always had an almost Tourette’s inclination to parrot — something that’s gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion. But what we’re talking about here is a more sustained pattern of speech, including vocabulary, cadence, and manner of articulation. And, in the latter case, it’s more like matching a dialect in the service of easing conversation than it is automatic mimicry.