LiLo's Accent Is Communication Accommodation Theory at Play

Getty Images / Tim P. Whitby

Anyone who thought Lindsay Lohan’s breathy, bizarre new pan-European accent was another of the troubled star’s attention-grabbing stunts couldn’t have been more wrong. Explaining to The Daily Mail that her accent is a mixture of several languages she’s been learning, the budding polyglot simultaneously silenced her haters and validated a well-established communication model called Communication Accommodation Theory.

According to this model, developed in the 1970s by UCSB communications professor Howard Giles, Ph.D., Lohan is taking on the accents of the people she’s been speaking with to facilitate communication with them. Seeing as she is “fluent in French, can understand Russian, and is learning Turkish, Italian, and Arabic,” it makes complete sense that her accent would be a little confused: In her attempt to reduce the social differences between her and her very international pals, she’s subconsciously adjusted her speech patterns to accommodate the linguistic needs of a lot of people.

LiLo is, actually, a linguistic diplomat.

The Communication Accommodation theory explains that the process of “convergence” — that is, the ways a person like LiLo adapts to her friends’ communication habits — reduces the perceived social differences between them, thereby making all parties feel like they are part of the same group. A social psychology model called Social Identity Theory explains why she’d want to do this: It says that people are constantly trying to keep up a positive social identity, and one of the best ways to do so is fitting in with a group.

The problem Lohan has run into is that she is trying to fit into too many groups simultaneously: Her over-ambitious linguistic goals seem to be backfiring.

It’s possible, also, that it isn’t just her speech that’s confused. Giles’ theory actually stemmed out of an older theory known as Speech Accommodation Theory, which attempted to explain why people specifically take on the linguistic tics of their interlocutors; adding to it the idea that mimicking other, nonverbal elements of communication might facilitate conversation as well, Giles predicts that LiLo might also display Russian, French, Turkish, Italian, and Arab mannerisms in her next interview.

While her garbled social identity might look and sound funny, at least we know she means well — and she’s got a good sense of humor about it. Both will probably prove helpful to her in the long term, seeing as she’s got a new nightclub in the middle of Europe to run.

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