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Models of Assimilation

Evaluating Ethnic Characteristics

Look for the unique social groupings that express characteristics associated with ethnic identities.  These identities might be ethnic groups otherwise identifiable in the home countries or original rural home area of the group under evaluation.  You might also find that new ethnic identities have developed.

There is a sociological element and a language element to the character of "a people." Social groups in themselves do not constitute a people.  Likewise, language alone is not a sufficient deteminative factor.

Identification in a people group format would identify common factors like:
                        Displacement in a foreign country.
                        Association with a neighboring people.
                        Necessity to use a language other than the mother tongue (aside from what the mother tongue is).
                        Education of children in international school, often English.
                        Temporariness of location or situation.
                        Contact with the original ethnic group.
                        Needs in common with other ethnicities in the city or country, e.g., for job training, etc., which might be the basis of a group affinity.

Basic Principle – Self-Identity: Worldview

Life decisions are made in the deep worldview level of self-identity, in the heart language.

Determine relational patterns, social structures and decision-making patterns.  Which group do they most resemble? To which other groups are they most closely related?

You will determine this in your worldview investigation.

Reference Examples

Multi-Lingual Ethnic Groups
A people who speak multiple languages but still consider themselves one ethnic group.

1.  The Dinka of Sudan – A range of dialects comprising five separate languages
2.  The Beja in Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt
    Three languages:
         To Bedawie (Beja)
         Sudanese Arabic.
               Some bilingual or trilingual, some monolingual in one of the three.
3.  Several in the China-Nepal-India area.

Multi-Ethnic Language Groups
Different peoples who speak the same language, but consider themselves distinct

Example: Swahili language
         Arabs and the Shirazi (Afro-Asians)
         Former Zanzibari Arabs of Oman

Humans relate on multiple levels for various purposes.  But many of these relationships are not sufficiently integrative to define a common identity.  The ethnos (or ethnic) approach intends to include whatever factors of common human identity that are sufficiently integrative as to be a primary factor of group identity.

Some Models of Assimilation
View Power Point Presentation of Assimilation Models

The challenge here is to observe, investigate, discover and describe the characteristics of the new resulting "people group."

The "Stream-Shifting" (shifting from one ethnic group into another), Coalescences (into a new, unique ethnicity) and Divergences are conditions accounted for by differences in the value and priority given to any characteristic by that group.  Look for the "sufficiently integrative" factors.

The term "multi-cultural" is more characteristic of urban centers than rural, and actually defines one type of culture, or "ethnicity." Yet, just living in the same city may not be sufficiently integrative as to be a primary factor of a group identity.  See Multicultural Peoples by this author.

1.  Model:  Shifting Streams

Tribal origin of an individual is an interesting, but secondary, factor in identity.  New people-group (ethnic) streams are developing all the time.  Old ones are fading out of existence, often by merging into another ethnic stream.

This is an example of the situation many of us "Westerners" are in: our families have shifted ethnic streams.  Our ancestors shifted from their Polish, Irish, Greek, Spanish culture (and language) stream and joined the already-existing and ongoing English-American cultural stream.  Many of us are now part of a different, new, mixed ethnic stream, and thus a new people, or developing towards a new people identity.

Example: Athi (Dorobo) peoples absorbed by the Kikuyu in Central Kenya.

Be sure to distinguish between ethnic streams and language streams.

2.  Model:  Divergence

One part of a stream changes into a different and unique ethnic entity.  Divergence represents the development of new peoples, which still fit the currently-used people group definition.  New people groups are always developing.  The task is to identify the new "group" (read as people, tribe or ethno-socio-linguistic group), and address them in their common language, thought-forms, felt needs, etc.

Example: Tonga in Zambia and Zimbabwe separated by a new lake on their border

3.  Model:  Coalescence (or Convergence)

Two or more ethnic streams or parts of streams coalesce into a new unique ethnic identity based on some new common affinity.

Example: Nairobi, Kenya – second generation persons who grew up in the city and feel more comfortable in Swahili or English than in the grandparents’ language, aligning along lines of education, profession, or other factors.

Example: Miwok of Northwest US – originally 7 separate related native American tribes.  All languages have died out, all speak English and are reidentifying as a single peole callped Miwok.  See Ethnologue and Registry of Peoples information on this cultural change.

Example: Griqua of South Africa – developed by design when detribalized mixed-blood peoples decided to establish themselves as a new tribe to resist the Afrikaners.

Example: Somali Bantu of Somalia/USA – developed by design as an alliance of smaller Bantu-origin peoples to present a united identity in defense of their culture and lives in war-torn Somalia.  See Who Are the "Somali Bantu"?.

In international settings, the common integrating factor of a multi-lingual and multi-cultural grouping is often in the common international language, which is often also the primary (most-used) language of many in each associated ethnic group of the international setting.

Additionally it is often the mother tongue or primary language of the children in all segments of the international group.  Thus we may see the early transitional stages of a new multi-ethnic people group in the making.  See Cities and Peoples by this author.

The specific national or linguistic or ethnic groups comprising the larger international segment may offer additional defining characteristics for the larger international group as a whole.

Process:  Detribalization
Detribalization is a term for the shift away from historic family, or ethnic, ties.  This process is already approaching its maximum in European and North American cities, where the process is heightened by the modern emphasis on the individual rather than the "nation" or ethnic group.  Even in Africa, known for strong extended families, family may narrow down to the nuclear family, then to the single parent.

The cities are cauldrons of disintegration and reintegration.  Thus there are factors common to most cities, which suggest strategies for reaching persons in the cities and peoples in the cities.

A resulting process or characteristic of "city" is atomization, or detribalization.  This moves us, however, in the opposite direction from "people," which entails a coherent, self-defining group.

Detribalized or detribalizing individuals or families do not in themselves constitute a new people (tribe) or ethnic group as such.  Observaton of an apparent detribaliztion process might, however, indicate a nascent new people group.  there are factors which may come into operation that lead to a new socio-cultural grouping that develops an identity that can be "a people," a new ethnic group.

People and Peoples

Each individual is part of some larger grouping that may be identified by several clear universal human characteristics, referred to in the term ethnicity.  Thus we can communicate with these discrete groupings for greater effectiveness, rather than limiting ourselves to individuals or "aggregate" individuals gathered in some arbitrary or fortuitous groupings.  This takes advantage of the natural social networks and structures of ethnic grouping.

Process:  Retribalization
People tend to seek out others similar to themselves, often by language or other cultural characteristic.  So a process of retribalization occurs.  This takes three primary forms:

1.  Reidentificationaffirming their identity as part (a "segment") of the same, original people, usually reaffirming their home language, even if they are bilingual in the dominant city or national language.

Examples:   New York City neighborhoods for Puerto Rican, Italian, Urban Black, Southern Black, Southern White, etc.

Note that even in these cases, there is attrition by families and individuals in the later generations, perhaps 5th and later, though they usually retain a strong personal "romantic" identity with the old culture.

Reidentification simply extends the "old" people identities, but perhaps creates a new "segment" of that people.  This segment may remain related to the old home country or rural segment, or may evolve into its own separate identity still related to the larger old stream and the old source culture.

To some extent the English-speaking Europeans of North America fit this process, in relation to the British origins.

2.  Divergenceaffirmation of the basic cultural character and language of the parent culture, but characterized by some unique shared characteristics or beliefs.  Often a new dynamic change of belief or social change becomes a new integrative factor of the culture.  The divergent identity change may be radical and rapid, or only gradually develop.

In this regard, most would classify the English-speaking Europeans of North America as a separate pepole group, though still (culturally) very closely related to the British.

They are no longer British in their self-identity.  These English-speaking people are a new "Anglo" ethnic group, with many segments (but closely related culturally to the old British group), living alongside other ethnic groups who also speak English.  Their cultural divergence from the original Anglo culture has been enhanced by others of diverse ethnic origins, who have joined thier ethnic stream.

2.  Coalescence – former members of multiple previous ethnicities departing from their historic ethnic identity and drawing together as a new coherent, unique ethnicity with perhaps some characteristics from each of the ethnicities of origin and/or based on new commonalities.

Two streams or parts of streams find affinity on some other common ground in their new setting and diverge from their parent and converge into a single new identity.

Segments from other non-Anglo streams have also shifted streams to join them, merging into the English-language stream, and adding in the process some new characteristics to the growing new "Anglo" ethnicity of America.  Many segments form different streams have coalesced together into this nw North American stream.

Many people of non-British origin now are part of the new English-speaking ethnic stream in one of the North American culture segments.  Much of the new North American "Anglo" ethnic stream results from the coalescence of non-Anglo Europeans who joined with the divergent Anglos to join the North American mix.

Evaluation Scenarios

People Group 1 (PG1) ~ People Group 2 (PG2)

1.  PG1 (whole group or segment) with language of PG2, no dialect – possibly assimilated

2.  PG1 with a dialect of language of PG2, dialect name same as the PG1 ethnic name
      – not assimilated, segment of PG1
      – assimilated, segment of PG2

3.  PG1 with a dialect of PG2 language, also spoken by a segment of PG2, dialect name or same as PG2 different from either PG1 or PG2 ethnic name
      – Likely assimilated
      – Fully assimilated without differentiation
      – A segment of PG2
      – Possibly a new identity as PG3

Let's consider Scenario 3 to clarify some of the dynamics:

Three Degrees of Assimilation
The first three possibilities occur here because we are evaluating indicators.

1.  Your observation might seem to indicate they are assimilated, but you can't point out objective, unambiguous indications.

2.  You might have enough clear information that indicates no one in either group considers them different anymore.

3.  They might still make a distiction of themselves as a group, yet see themselves now as a sub-group of the group whose language they now speak.  Compare German-origin Americans, who consider themselves German-Americans.  Likewise, Irish in various countries are different from native Irish, but strongly identify as Irish in their various new cultural or social settings.

Clarification is obtained in further details based on the actual worldview of the people and social realities of that group.  This information is discovered in your primary research on the ethnic group.  This information would clarify which scenario seems to best account for the facts.

Thus the facts given in the example could be accounted for by the three first possibilities given here.  How much you know about the specific social and worldview dynamics affects your determination will be.

New Ethnicity
The separate fourth possibility has to also be considered.  If details are insufficient to determine between these, then the researcher or data manager has to make a judgement call on how to list that ethnic entity at that stage.  We would be advised to remain aware and watch for later updated information on the entity to clarify.

When you find a form of a more dominant language spoken by a group of people who call themselves by a different name from the name of the dominant people speaking the dominant language.  Sometimes the dominant people and language name would be the same, sometimes not.

This is an indication of a separate ethnic origin somewhere back in history.  It may be at a historical depth of from one generation to centuries.  Thus you would continue with further worldview research to clarify the people's self-identity and relational factors between the two groups, to obtain a more detailed, refined idea of their identity.

To resolve possibilities, we would need further worldview self-identity investigation, relational patterns, information on locales and interaction.  Our goal is to achieve an understanding of the ethnicity as close as possible to that of the members.

For comprehensive and standard ethnic listings, this self-identity view is then balanced against standardized classification schema and criteria for consistency in listing along with other world ethnicities.  Ultimately and ideally our classification and listings would represent the real-world situation clarifying ethnic self-identities and assimilation processes.

Also related:
Culture and Experience
Ethnicity, Ancestors and Society:  Self-Identification in the US
Germanic and Celtic
Italian and Caucasian
Italians, Etruscans and Greeks:  Genetics and Ethnicity
Ethnicity in a Multi-cultural Society:  What is Meant by "Hispanic" or "Latino" in the United States? (Criteria For Determining Ethnicity)
Multi-Level Ethnicity:  Illustrating Different Views of the Same Ethnic Group at Different Levels
Scots, Irish and English
Scots Language and French Influence
The Subtlety of Assimilation

Also view related PowerPoint Presentations:
Assimilation Models How People Groups Develop and Change
Describing a People Group
Identifying a People Group
What is a People Group?


Orville Boyd Jenkins
First Developed December 2002
Edited and First Posted on Thoughts and Resources 1 March 2004
Last edited 7 August 2013
Email: researchguy@iname.com

Copyright © 2003, 2005 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission given for free download and use for personal and educational purposes.  Please give credit and link back.  All other rights reserved.
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