The Social Role of Linguistic Alignment with In-Group and Out-Group Members
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Abstract This experiment examined whether the act of copying another person's linguistic choices, or linguistic alignment, like the act of copying another person's behaviors, or non-linguistic mimicry, functions as a tool for establishing rapport between interlocutors. This was achieved by having participants play a picture describing/matching game in which they could either align or not align with the syntactic structure or lexical term produced by their “partner” (who was in fact a computer simulation) under conditions in which rapport was either desirable- i.e., when their partner was ostensibly an in-group member, or less desirable- i.e., when their partner was ostensibly an out-group member. Additionally, it examined whether the degree to which the social group membership manipulation mediated linguistic alignment depended on whether a syntactic structure/lexical term was highly favored or highly disfavored in comparison to an equally acceptable alternative. Finally, it tested whether social group membership mediation altered according to whether the participants had high or low self-esteem. Participants' patterns of lexical alignment revealed that they did copy lexical terms to a greater extent when interacting with an in-group versus an out-group member, although this tendency did not alter according to whether a lexical term was favored or disfavored, or the participants' self-esteem. Conversely, participants engaged in only marginally different levels of syntactic alignment in the in-group versus the out-group condition overall, and this tendency was not modified by the favored/disfavored status of a syntactic structure. However, participants with high self esteem did show a much greater increase in syntactic alignment in the in-group versus the out-group condition than participants with low self-esteem. The implications of these findings with respect to the utility of lexical and syntactic alignment as tools for promoting rapport in accordance with social context demands are discussed.