Skip to main content Accessibility help

Accommodating the elderly: Invoking and extending a theory1

  • Nikolas Coupland (a1), Justine Coupland (a1), Howard Giles (a2) and Karen Henwood (a2)


The article begins by exploring briefly the role of the elderly in sociolinguistic theory and research. After an outline of the parameters of speech accommodation theory together with a new schematic model, it is argued that speech accommodation theory is a profitable framework for elucidating the sociolinguistic mechanics of, and the social psychological processes underlying, intergenerational encounters. A recent conceptual foray in this direction, which highlights young-to-elderly language strategies, is then overviewed with some illustrations. Contrastive data from a case study are then introduced, a discourse analysis of which allows us to conceptualize various elderly-to-young language strategies. This interpretive analysis suggests important avenues for extending speech accommodation theory itself. A revised, more sociolinguistically elaborated version of this framework is then presented which highlights strategies beyond those of convergence, maintenance, and divergence and leads to the conceptualization of over- and underaccommodation. Finally, and on the basis of the foregoing, a new model of intergenerational communication is proposed and Ryan et al.'s (1986) “communicative predicament” framework duly revised. (Accommodation theory, elderly, overaccommodation, case studies, discourse management, stereotypes, underaccommodation, interdisciplinary)



Hide All
Arkin, R. M., & Baumgardner, A. H. (in press). Self-handicapping. In Harvey, J. H. & Weary, G. (eds.), Basic issues in attribution theory and research. New York: Academic.
Ashburn, G., & Gordon, A. (1981). Features of a simplified register in speech to elderly conversationalists. International Journal of Psycholinguistics 8:731.
Barron, M. (1961). The aging American. New York: Crowell.
Bell, A. (1984). Language style as audience design. Language in Society 13:145204.
Berger, C. R. (1985). Social power and communication. In Knapp, M. L. & Miller, G. R. (eds.), Handbook of interpersonal communication. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Berger, C. R., & Kellerman, K. (1983). To ask or not to ask: Is that a question? In Bostrom, R. N. (ed.), Communication yearbook 7. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Berman, L., & Sobkowska-Ashcroft, I. (1986). The old in language and literature. Language and Communication 6:139–44.
Boden, D., & Bielby, D. D. (1983). The past as resource: A conversational analysis of elderly talk. Human Development 26:308–19.
Boden, D., & Bielby, D. D. (1986). The way it was: Topical organization in elderly conversation. Language and Communication 6(1/2):7389.
Bourhis, R. Y. (1979). Language in ethnic interaction: A social psychological approach. In Giles, H. & Jacques, B. St. (eds.), Language and ethnic relations. Oxford: Pergamon. 117–42.
Bourhis, R. Y., & Giles, H. (1977). The language of intergroup distinctiveness. In Giles, H. (ed.), Language, ethnicity, and intergroup relations. London: Academic. 1136.
Bradac, J. J. (1982). A rose by any other name: Attitudinal consequences of lexical variation. In Ryan, E. B. & Giles, H. (eds.), Attitudes towards language variation: Social and applied contexts. London: Arnold.
Branco, K. J., & Williamson, J. B. (1982). Stereotyping and the life cycle: Views of aging and the aged. In Miller, A. G. (ed.), In the eye of the beholder: Contemporary issues in stereotyping. New York: Praeger.
Brewer, M. B., Dull, V., & Lui, L. (1981). Perceptions of the elderly: Stereotypes as prototypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 41:656–70.
Brewer, M. B., & Miller, N. (1984). Beyond the contact hypothesis: Theoretical perspectives on desegregation. In Miller, N. & Brewer, M. B. (eds.), Groups in contact: The psychology of desegregation. New York: Academic.
Brown, R. (1977). Introduction. In Snow & Ferguson (1977). 127.
Brown, R., & Gilman, A. (1960). The pronouns of power and solidarity. In Sebeok, T. A. (ed.), Style in language. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 253–76.
Caporael, L. (1981). The paralanguage of caregiving: Baby talk to the institutionalised aged. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 40(5):876–84.
Caporael, L., Lukaszewski, M. P., & Culbertson, G. H. (1983). Secondary babytalk: Judgements by institutionalised elderly and their caregivers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 44 (4):746–54.
Carver, C. S., & de la Garza, N. H. (1985). Schema-guided information search in stereotyping of the elderly. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 15:6981.
Caspi, A., & Elder, G. H. Jr, (1986). Life satisfaction in old age: Linking social psychology and history. Psychology & Ageing 1:4754.
Cicourel, A. V. (1973). Language and meaning in social interaction. Cognitive sociology. Hardmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.
Clyne, M. (1977). Bilingualism of the elderly. Talanya 4:4565.
Cohen, D., & Wu, S. (1980). Language and cognition during aging. Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics 1:7196.
Cohen, G., & Faulkner, D. (1986). Does “elderspeak” work? The effect of intonation and stress on comprehension and recall of spoken discourse in old age. Language and Communication 6:9198.
Coleman, H. (ed.) (1985). Language and work 2: The health professions. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 51.
Condor, S. G., & Henwood, K. L. (mimeo). Stereotypes and social context.
Coupland, J. (1983). Linguistic complexity and difficulty in children's reading material. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wales.
Coupland, J., Coupland, N., Giles, H., & Wiemann, J. (1988). My life in your hands: Processes of self-disclosure in intergenerational talk. In Coupland, N. (ed.), Styles of discourse. London: Croom Helm.
Coupland, N. (1983). Patterns of encounter management: Further arguments for discourse variables. Language in Society 12:459–76.
Coupland, N. (1986). Miscommunicating with the elderly: Psychological and health implications. Paper presented at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Bristol, September.
Coupland, N. (1988). Dialect in use: Sociolinguistic variation in Cardiff English. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Coupland, N., Coupland, J., Giles, H., Henwood, K., & Wiemann, J. (in press). Elderly self-disclosure: Interactional and intergroup issues. Language and Communication.
Coupland, N., Giles, H., & Benn, W. (1986). Language, communication, and the blind: Research agenda. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 5:5263.
Coupland, N., Giles, H., & Wiemann, J. (eds.) (forthcoming). Handbook of miscommunication. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Coupland, N., Henwood, K., Coupland, J., & Giles, H. (in press). Accommodating troubles-talk: The young's management of elderly self-disclosure. In McGregory, J. & White, R. (eds.), Reception and response: Hearer creativity and the analysis of spoken and written texts. London: Croom Helm.
Craig, R. T., & Tracey, K. (eds.) (1983). Conversational coherence: Form, structure, and strategy. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Crockett, W. H., Press, A. N., & Osterkamp, M. (1979). The effect of deviations from stereotyped expectations upon attitudes toward older persons. Journal of Gerontology 34:368–74.
Culbertson, G. H., & Caporael, L. (1983). Baby talk speech to the elderly: Complexity and content of messages. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 9:305–12.
Davis, R. H., & Kubey, R. W. (1982). Growing older on television and with television. In Pearl, D., Bouthilet, L., & Lazar, J. (eds.), Television and behavior. Rockville, Md.: National Institute of Mental Health.
De Paulo, B. M., & Coleman, L. M. (1986). Talking to children, foreigners, and retarded adults. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51:945–59.
Doise, W. (1978). Groups and individuals: Explorations in social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dowd, J. J. (1984). Beneficence and the aged. Journal of Gerontology 39:102–08.
Dowd, J. J. (1986). The old person as stranger. In Marshall, V. W. (ed.), Later life: The social psychology of aging. Beverly Hills: Sage. 147–90.
Dunkel-Shetter, C., & Wartman, C. B. (1982). The interpersonal dynamics of cancer: Problems in social relationships and their impact on the patient. In Friedman, H. S. & DiMatteo, M. R. (eds.), Interpersonal issues in health-care. New York: Academic.
Dunkle, R. E., Haug, M. R., & Rosenberg, M. (eds.) (1984). Communications technology and the elderly: Issues and forecasts. New York: Springer. 135–44.
Ferguson, C. A. (1977). Baby talk as a simplified register. In Snow & Ferguson (1977). 219–36.
Franklyn-Stokes, A., Harriman, J., Giles, H., & Coupland, N. (in press). Information seeking across the life-span. Journal of Social Psychology.
Giles, H. (1973). Accent mobility: A model and some data. Anthropological Linguistics 15(2):87105.
Giles, H. (1980). Accommodation theory: Some new directions. In De Silva, S. (ed.), Aspects of linguistic behaviour: A Festschrift in honour of Robert Le Page. York Papers in Linguistics, University of York, England.
Giles, H. (1984). The dynamics of speech accommodation. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 46.
Giles, H., Bourhis, R., & Taylor, D. (1977). Towards a theory of language in ethnic group relations. In Giles, H. (ed.), Language, ethnicity, and intergroup relations. London: Academic. 307–48.
Giles, H., & Coupland, N. (1984). Communication and the elderly: An interdisciplinary approach. Research programme submitted to the Economic and Social Research Council, London.
Giles, H., & Hewstone, M. (1982). Cognitive structures, speech, and social situations: Two inte-grative models. Language Sciences 4:187219.
Giles, H., & Johnson, P. (1987). Ethnolinguistic identity theory: A social psychological approach to language maintenance. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 68(6).
Giles, H., Mulac, A., Bradac, J. J., & Johnson, P. (1986). Speech accommodation theory: The last decade and beyond. In McLaughlin, M. (ed.), Communication yearbook 10. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Giles, H., & Powesland, P. F. (1975). Speech style and social evaluation. London: Academic.
Giles, H., & Ryan, E. (eds.) (1986). Language, communication, and the elderly. Language and Communication (Special issue) 6:1.
Giles, H., & St. Clair, R. N. (eds.) (1979). Language and social psychology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Giles, H., & St. Clair, R. N. (eds.) (1985). Recent advances in language, communication, and social psychology. London: Erlbaum.
Giles, H., & Smith, P. (1979). Accommodation theory: Optimal levels of convergence. In H. Giles & R. N. St. Clair (1979). 4565.
Giles, H., Taylor, D., & Bourhis, R. (1973). Towards a theory of interpersonal accommodation through language: Some Canadian data. Language in Society 2:177–92.
Gregory, M., & Carroll, S. (1978). Language and situation: Language varieties and their social contexts. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Grice, H. (1975). Logic and conversation. In Cole, P. & Morgan, J. L. (eds.), Syntax and semantics, vol. 3: Speech acts. New York: Academic.
Grimshaw, A. D. (1967). Directions for research in sociolinguistics: Suggestions of a nonlinguist sociologist. In Lieberson, S. (ed.), Explorations in sociolinguistics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 191204. (First published in Sociological Inquiry (1966) 36(2).)
Grimshaw, A. D. (1980). Mishearings, misunderstandings, and other nonsuccesses in talk. Sociological Inquiry 40(3–4):3174.
Gudykunst, W. B. (1986). Intergroup communication. London: Edward Arnold.
Gudykunst, W. B. (mimeo). Diplomacy: A special case of intergroup communication. Communication Dept., Arizona State University, Tempe. Paper delivered at the First Canberra Conference on International Communication.
Gumperz, J. J. (1982a). Discourse strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gumperz, J. J. (ed.) (1982b). Language and social identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as social semiotic. London: Edward Arnold.
Helfrich, H. (1979). Age markers in speech. In Scherer, K. R. & Giles, H. (eds.), Social markers in speech. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 63108.
Heller, K., & Mansbach, W. E. (1984). The multifaceted nature of social support in a community sample of elderly women. Journal of Social Issues 40:99112.
Henwood, K., & Giles, H. (1985). An investigation of the relationship between stereotypes of the elderly and interpersonal communication between young and old. Final Report to the Nuffield Foundation, London.
Hewitt, J. P., & Stokes, R. (1975). Disclaimers. American Sociological Review 40:111.
Hewstone, M., & Brown, R. P. (eds.) (1986). Intergroup contact. Oxford: Blackwell.
Hymes, D. (1977). Foundations in sociolinguistics: An ethnographic approach. London: Tavistock.
Jones, E. E., & Berglas, S. (1978). Control of attributions about the self through self-handicapping strategies: The appeal of alcohol and the role of underachievement. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin 4:200–06.
Kaplan, B. H., Cassel, J. C., & Gore, S. (1979). Social support and health. In Jaco, E. G. (ed.), Patients, physicians, and illness (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.
Kausler, D. H. (1982). Experimental psychology and human aging. New York: Wiley.
Keidel, W. D. (1980). Interpersonal communication problems in old age from the viewpoint of sensory physiology. Zeitschrift für Gerontologie 13:95112.
Kellerman, K., & Berger, C. (1984). Affect and the acquisition of social information: Sit back, relax, and tell me about yourself. In Bostrom, R. (ed.), Communication yearbook 8. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Kogan, N. (1979). Beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes about old people. Research on Aging 1:1136.
Kolditz, T. A., & Arkin, R. M. (1982). An impression management interpretation of the self-handicapping strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 43:492502.
Korzenny, F., & Neuendorf, K. (1980). Television viewing and the self-concept of the elderly. Journal of Communication 30:7180.
Kraut, R. E., & Higgins, E. T. (1984). Communication and social cognition. In Wyer, R. S. & Srull, T. K. (eds.), Handbook of social cognition, vol. 3. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.
Kreps, G. (1986). Health communication and the elderly. World Communication 15:5570.
Kreps, G., & Thornton, B. (1984). Health communication: Theory and practice. New York: Longman.
Kynette, D., & Kemper, S. (1986). Aging and the loss of grammatical forms: A cross-sectional study of language performance. Language and Communication 6:6572.
Labov, W. (1972a). Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Labov, W. (1972b). Language in the inner city: Studies in the Black English Vernacular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Laver, J. (1974). Communicative functions of phatic communion. Work in progress 7. Department of Linguistics, University of Edinburgh. 118.
Lukens, J. (1979). Inter-ethnic conflict and communicative distance. In Giles, H. & Saint-Jacques, B. (eds.), Language and ethnic group relations. Oxford: Pergamon.
Lutsky, N. S. (1980). Attitudes toward old age and elderly persons. Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics 1:287336.
McGregor, G. (ed.) (1986). Language for hearers. Oxford: Pergamon.
Meyer, B. J. F., & Rice, G. E. (1983). Learning and memory from text across lifespan. In Fine, J. & Freedle, R. O. (eds.), Developmental issues in discourse. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex. 291306.
Milroy, L. (1984). Comprehension and context: Successful communication and communication breakdown. In Trudgill, P. (ed.), Applied sociolinguistics. London: Academic. 732.
Nuessel, F. H. (1982). The language of ageism. Gerontologist 22(3):273–76.
O'Barr, W. M. (1982). Linguistic evidence: Language, power, and strategy in the courtroom. New York: Academic.
Obler, L. K., & Albert, M. L. (eds.) (1980). Language and communication in the elderly: Clinical, therapeutic, and experimental issues. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books.
O'Keefe, B. J., & Delia, J. G. (1985). Psychological and interaction dimensions of communicative development. In Giles, H. & St. Clair, R. N. (eds.), Recent advances in language, communication, and social psychology. London: Erlbaum.
Oyer, H. J., & Over, E. (eds.) (1976). Aging and communication. Baltimore, Md.: University Park Press.
Palmore, E. (1978). Are the aged a minority group? Journal of the American Geriatric Society 26:214–17.
Peterson, W. A., & Quadango, J. (eds.) (1986). Social bonds in later life: Aging and interdependence. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Platt, J., & Weber, H. (1984). Speech convergence miscarried: An investigation into inappropriate accommodation strategies. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 46:131–46.
Poon, L., Fozard, J. L., Cermak, L. S., Arenberg, D., & Thompson, L. W. (eds.) (1980). New directions in memory and aging: Proceedings of the George A. Talland Memorial Conference. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.
Portnoy, E. P. (1981). Aging sensory losses and communicative behaviour. Activities Adaptation and Aging 2:5966.
Ramig, L. A. (1986). Aging speech: Physiological and sociological aspects. Language and Communication 6:2534.
Robinson, W. P. (1979). Speech markers and social class. In Scherer, K. R. & Giles, H. (eds.), Social markers in speech. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 211–50.
Roloff, M. E., & Berger, C. R. (eds.) (1982). Social cognition and communication. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Rook, K. S. (1984). The negative side of social interaction: Impact on psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 46:1097–108.
Rubin, A. M. (1984). Ritualized and instrumental television viewing. Journal of Communication 34:6777.
Rubin, A. M. (1986). Television, aging, and information seeking. Language and Communication 6:125–37.
Rubin, A. M., & Rubin, R. B. (1982). Contextual age and television use. Human Communication Research 8(3):228244.
Rubin, K. H., & Brown, I. D. R. (1975). A life-span look at person perception and its relationship to communicative interaction. Journal of Gerontology 30:461–68.
Rubin, R. B., & Rubin, A. M. (1982). Contextual age and television use: Re-examining a life-position indicator. In Burgoon, M. (ed.), Communication yearbook 6. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Ryan, E. B., & Giles, H. (eds.) (1982). Attitudes towards language variation. London: Edward Arnold.
Ryan, E. B., Giles, H., Bartolucci, G., & Henwood, K. (1986). Psycholinguistic and social psychological components of communication by and with the elderly. Language and Communication 6:124.
Ryan, E. B., Giles, H., & Sebastian, R. (1982). An integrative perspective for the study of attitudes toward language. In Ryan & Giles (1982). 119.
Schlenker, B. R., & Leary, M. R. (1982). Social anxiety and self-presentation: A conceptualization and model. Psychological Bulletin 92:641–69.
Sinclair, J. McH., & Coulthard, M. (1975). Towards an analysis of discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smith, P. M. (in press). Leadership: A depersonalization perspective. Oxford: Blackwell.
Snow, C. E., & Ferguson, C. A. (eds.) (1977). Talking to children: Language input and acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sreib, G. (1965). Are the aged a minority group? In Gouldner, A. & Miller, S. (eds.), Applied sociology. New York: Free Press.
Stewart, M. A., & Ryan, E. B. (1982). Attitudes toward younger and older adult speakers: Effect of varying speech rates. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 1:91109.
Street, R. (1982). Evaluation of noncontent speech accommodation. Language and Communication 2:1331.
Street, R., & Capella, J. (eds.) (1985). Sequence and pattern in communicative behaviour. London: Edward Arnold.
Street, R., & Giles, H. (1982). Speech accommodation theory: A social cognitive approach to language and speech behaviour. In Roloff & Berger (1982).
Street, R., & Hopper, R. (1982). A model of speech style evaluation. In Ryan & Giles (1982). 175–88.
Tajfel, H., & Wilkes, A. L. (1963). Classification and quantitative judgement. British Journal of Psychology 54:101–14.
Tannen, D., & Saville-Troike, M. (eds.) (1985). Perspectives on silence. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex.
Tate, P. (1983). Doctors', style. In Pendleton, D. & Hasler, J. (eds.). Doctor-patient communication. London: Academic.
Thakerar, J. N., Giles, H., & Cheshire, J. (1982). Psychological and linguistic parameters of speech accommodation. In Fraser, C. & Scherer, K. R. (eds.), Advances in the social psychology of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 205–55.
Tuckman, J., & Lorge, J. (1953). Attitudes toward old people. Journal of Social Psychology 37:249–60.
Turner, J. C. (1982). Towards a cognitive redefinition of the social group. In Tajfel, H. (ed.), Social identity and intergroup relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Turner, J. C. (in press). Social influence. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Turner, J. C., & Brown, R. P. (1978). Social status, cognitive alternatives, and intergroup relations. In Tajfel, H. (ed.), Differentiation between social groups. London: Academic.
Walker, V. G., Hardiman, C. M., Hedrick, D. L., & Holbrook, A. (1981). Speech and language characteristics of an aging population. In Lass, N. J. (ed.), Speech and language: Advances in basic research and practice, vol. 6. New York: Academic. 143202.
Ward, R. A. (1984). The marginality and salience of being old: When is age relevant? Gerontologist 24:227–37.
Weinstein, B. E., & Ventry, I. M. (1982). Hearing impairment and social isolation in the elderly. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders 25:593–99.
Wiemann, J. (1985). Power, status, and dominance: Interpersonal control and regulation in conversation. In Street, R. L. & Cappella, J. N. (eds.), Sequence and pattern in communicative behaviour. London: Edward Arnold. 85102.
Wiemann, J., & Bradac, J. J. (in press). Communicative competence. London: Arnold.
Wiemann, J., Coupland, N., Giles, H. et al. , (forthcoming). Beliefs about talk: Intercultural and intergenerational perspectives.

Accommodating the elderly: Invoking and extending a theory1

  • Nikolas Coupland (a1), Justine Coupland (a1), Howard Giles (a2) and Karen Henwood (a2)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed