Accommodation to Outgroup Members’ Use of an Ingroup Language: A Comparison of Service Encounters in Person and Over the Telephone

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Taylor & Francis


This article compares data from service encounters conducted in person and over the telephone in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. During the in-person phase, the author and 8 fieldworkers entered businesses and initiated conversations with Latino service providers in Spanish, noting the language of response. The rate of non-reciprocal responses in which workers used English to answer a question asked in Spanish was double for non-Latino fieldworkers. Telephone service encounters were conducted by the author, who is a non-Latino, non-native speaker of Spanish. There was 100% accommodation to the customer's language selection, with English being used on only 2 occasions, in both instances after the worker had spoken exclusively in Spanish during previous turns. Hence, it is concluded that visual cues outweigh audio cues as a factor in the exclusion of outgroup members. The article ends with a brief discussion of the phenomenon of passing as a native speaker, and of implications for L2 users.