In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Linguistic Accommodation

  • Introduction
  • Overviews of Accommodation
  • Overviews of Presupposition
  • Worries about Accommodation
  • Computational Models of Accommodation
  • Experimental Approaches to Accommodation

Linguistics Linguistic Accommodation
David Beaver, Kristie Denlinger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0283


Accommodation is the process whereby a listener makes adjustments in response to behavior of the speaker. In the area of linguistics we might broadly label as theoretical pragmatics, within which we include much of formal semantics and philosophy of language, accommodation is the mechanism whereby hearers modify their representation of the conversational background so as to match assumptions that the speaker has made. The most pervasive type of accommodation involves presupposition, when a speaker takes some type of information for granted. Accommodation of presuppositions occurs when the listener adjusts their knowledge state in order to match the information that a speaker has presupposed. For example, if a speaker says, “I have to go pick up my sister from the airport,” there is a presupposition triggered that the speaker has a sister. If the listener is not already aware of the existence of the sister, they must accommodate this information by adjusting their information state accordingly. Two dominant approaches to modeling presupposition behavior have emerged in the past few decades, resulting in two broad understandings of accommodation. For a class of dynamic semantic theories, accommodation is a process that involves satisfaction in local contexts. On the other hand, a wave of research on presupposition as anaphora relies on a notion of accommodation as the creation of antecedents to enable anaphoric resolution that would otherwise fail. Within both understandings of accommodation, the particular mechanisms can also vary. Some accounts weigh the plausibility of material to be accommodated, some accounts weigh the alternative contexts within which material might be accommodated, and some weigh the amount of descriptive content contributed by the presupposition. Besides accommodation in theoretical pragmatics, a broader notion of accommodation is prominent in sociolinguistics, as well as further afield from linguistics in social psychology and anthropology. This notion includes not only the beliefs of the interlocutors, but also many other aspects of speech style and communicative behavior more generally. This literature primarily draws from communication accommodation theory (CAT), according to which a speaker adjusts their communicative behavior based on that of their interlocuter. Commonly, this adjustment involves mirroring, but interlocutors may also adjust to make differences salient rather than emphasizing similarity. While theoretical pragmatic and sociolinguistic accommodation are distinct notions with independent intellectual histories, presupposition accommodation can be seen as a special case of sociolinguistic accommodation. Both involve a hearer’s adjustment in response to a speaker. However, the former is more restrictive, concerning only adjustment to increase similarity, and only adjustment of aspects of what Lewis termed the conversational scoreboard, within which he includes the beliefs of the speaker and hearer.

Overviews of Accommodation

The works included here introduce the reader to the foundational issues that justify the need for a theory of accommodation. Beaver and Zeevat 2007, Romoli and Sauerland 2017, and von Fintel 2008 are all overviews that specifically address presupposition accommodation, the former two focusing on dynamic semantic models and the latter on common ground theories of presupposition. Gallois and Giles 2005 is an informative and readable introduction to social accommodation theories and their history.

  • Beaver, David, and Henk Zeevat. 2007. Accommodation. In The Oxford handbook of linguistic interfaces. Edited by Gillian Ramchand and Charles Reiss, 503–538. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A handbook article specifically outlining models of presupposition accommodation since Lewis’s original conception. It includes a discussion of the contexts in which accommodation can take place and the pragmatic principles that evaluate those contexts.

  • Gallois, Cindy, and Howard Giles. 2005. Communication accommodation theory: A look back and a look ahead. In The international encyclopedia of language and social interaction. Edited by Karen Tracy, 1–18. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

    Provides a history of communication accommodation theory from its social psychology roots to its current interdisciplinary scope. The authors comment on the current state of the field and future directions for research.

  • Romoli, Jacopo, and Uli Sauerland. 2017. Presupposition and accommodation. In The Routledge handbook of pragmatics. Edited by Anne Barron, Yueguo Gu, and Gerard Steen, 257–276. London: Taylor & Francis.

    This handbook article focuses on accommodation in dynamic semantics. Special attention is played to the presupposed/asserted dichotomy as well as the debate over whether to consider presuppositions semantic or pragmatic phenomena.

  • von Fintel, Kai. 2008. What is presupposition accommodation, again? Philosophical Perspectives 22.1: 137–170.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1520-8583.2008.00144.x

    Provides an overview of the role of accommodation in a common ground theory of presuppositions. Von Fintel addresses several of the arguments against this type of approach and ultimately advocates for a common ground view of presupposition accommodation that is influenced by rules at both the semantic and pragmatic levels.

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