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In 1975 Burgoon, Jones and Stewart proposed Language Expectancy Theory, inspired from the book called “Brooks”. The language expectancy theory is a model about communication strategies, attitude and behavioral change. How the expectancies about the language affect in the process of persuasion.

language expectancy theory

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The book which they published regarding the language expectancy theory is titled “An empirical test of a model of resistance to persuasion”. Later in 1995 Burgoon reworked “Language Expectancy Theory” and presented the full version.

Language Expectancy Theory

Language expectancy theory assumes that language has a certain pattern of rules which developed from the specific context and other factors.

Theory views that the anticipated communication behavior is grounded in the psychological and cultural norms of the society. And these anticipated communication behavior acts as a pattern in language expectancies, where language has a rule governed system.

The expectations are the various kinds of cultural norms and preferences which arise from the context and other personal and environmental factors. People react at some specific language expectation based on the pattern when they receive messages, which are employed in a persuasive manner.

In a way it can be said that we all have our expectation when we talk with other people, about the do says and do not says, these do says and do not says are based on an enduring pattern as explained earlier.

And when people use the languages which are not expected in the common pattern there will be positive or negative responses of persuasion.

The expectations of communication are said to be derived from the following three factors:

  1. The Communicator
  2. The Relationship
  3. Context of the Situation

The Communicator – his personal factors such as credibility, social status, appearances and gender. Even if what he said is based on the basis of norms these factors plays significant role in the process of persuasion.

The Relationship between the sender and receiver or listener and communicator

Context of the Situation – The communication might have taking place in office, home, train. The emotional status of the listener and other environments are included in the context.

As per the Language expectancy theory, the responses may be of in positive or negative in nature. And also the deviation can be accidental or intentional.

If the behavior is preferred than the expected language, then the persuasion level will increase but it is believed that that the expectations developed from socio-cultural norms are much better and ideal for a perfect communication.

And if the language we used were not acceptable to other people, their responses will be in negative manner.

Related: Speech Act Theory


The example for language expectancy theory is all around us. And it is so common, when someone talks something without understanding the context of the situation happens always.

Robert is a manager of a leading company and he is known for his ability to complete the task before the deadline. He has rescued the company from many times from difficulties. And he is often appreciated for his talents.

On a fine day the general meeting was on process, and as usual Robert was on his chair listening to the presentations. Suddenly Robert moves towards the lady sitting next to him and says “I am bored lets go out and have some fun”. She was shocked to see such behavior from him.

Here on the meeting everybody is expected to follow formal language if there are expected things to be discussed. When Robert said something it which was not expected to be said, the language expectancy theory is debased. It depends upon the lady that to give a positive or negative response to Robert based on various factors such as credibility, context, and appearance and so on.

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