Chameleon effect: What makes us mimic accents of other people

This is why kids will develop accents of their parents, or people who often surround them.

In Summary

•The Chameleon Effect is embedded in human nature.

•This is why kids will develop accents of their parents, or people who often surround them.

Have you ever found yourself unintentionally imitating how a friend, television character, or media personality talks after listening to them for a while?

This is a well-established phenomenon that linguists call linguistic convergence, which refers to temporary (and often subtle) shifts in speech to sound more similar to those around us.

A new study in the March 2022 issue of the journal Language, authored by Lacey Wade from the University of Pennsylvania, shows that even our expectations about how other people might speak (rather than the speech itself) is enough to shape our own speech patterns.

Well does that explain why some Kenyan’s (tweng) have an accent when speaking English?

What exactly is convergence, does it have a role in the tweng* culture?

Convergence basically refers to the shifts people make to their speech to approximate that of those around them.

According to the study, we unintentionally mirror others when interacting by copying the other person’s gestures, body language, tone of voice and accent, in order to bond with others and feel safe in social interactions.

This is called the Chameleon Effect and it is embedded in human nature.

These findings which were published in the Linguistic Society of America.

"Anticipation and accents” showed that there are even more pressures shaping how we speak at any given time than we may have thought.

Nobody has a single, static way of speaking. We do not speak precisely the same way when giving a presentation to our colleagues as we do when we are chatting on the phone with a childhood friend.

A mother and her kids making a meal
A mother and her kids making a meal

Do we give in to society pressures?

The new study suggests that yet another pressure may be at play.

Here, our expectations about others' speech, not only do we imitate what we observe from others, but we also actively predict what others will do and shift our own speech to match.

This means that our expectations about others, even those that reflect stereotyped associations between accent features and the people who use them, influence not just the way we listen, but also the way we talk.

Accommodation is in some ways an automatic social behavior, we always want to fit in.

In fact, scientists suggest in the accommodation theory that linguistic accommodation can happen over the course of a conversation and then fade after the conversation ends, but has more long term effects when there is repeated exposure.

This is why kids will develop accents of their parents, or people who often surround them.

The Chameleon Effect can have a positive impact on social interactions. This research has shown that not only does it help us understand each other better, but it also helps us to bond more easily, as imitating another person comes from a desire to feel a strong connection to them.

Other studies have also shown that people enjoyed social interactions more if they experienced the Chameleon Effect in comparison to those who did not experience it.

The chameleon effect is a subconscious habit and if you try to consciously copy other’s behavior, then you may come across as a bit strange.

It is never that serious, at the end of the day. Do what makes you happy.

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