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Multi-Level Ethnicity
Illustrating Different Views of the Same Ethnic Group at Different Levels
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Ethnicity is more a view of identity, than an absolute metaphysical category or designation. Each social or genetic group will understand itself as related to various groups to various degrees. There is a common hierarchical relationship of ethnicities that is useful for placing in perspectives the otherwise confusing conflicting answers one may get.

An individual or social group will answer different a question about their ethnicity according to the level at which they perceive the question to be asked. For instance, in and African country, a person from a European country will likely answer that he is a European.

If some prior awareness of Europe is indicated, or a deeper interest or more precise question follows, the person might answer that they are Spanish, referring to nationality, their geo-political identity. Probing further, we might get an answer related to the geographical region, and we might learn that Spanish is not their mother tongue.

Zooming In
As further discernment proceeds, we many learn that the mother tongue is Galician, or Leonese, and thus ethnicity might ultimately be determined as Galician, or Leonese. This is a universal human phenomenon, thus multiple views must be taken.

Just as when photographing a geographical location, or a sculpture, various photos form all perspectives provide a more complete and precise view than just a simple frontal shot with no perspective.

Individuals and social or genetic groups may be seen as having multiple identities in a cascading relationship of closer to home and kin and farther form home and kin. The following examples will illustrate the variations of ethnicities at different levels for some representative ethnicities in different parts of the world and different language families.

Ethnicities in Various Countries
Illustrating Different Views of the Same Ethnic Group at Different Levels


FRENCH People/Ethnicity

France and International same designation: French        Can refer to Nationality or Ethnicity

Language International, National and Home            French

ALSATIAN Alemannisch) People/Ethnicity
1,500,000 in France (Also in Germany and Austria)

Nationality        French
Mother Tongue    Alemannisch (Alsatian)
Second Language     French

Level                        Designation/Identity        Language

International                 French Nationality             French    

National                      French (Alsatian)               French

Department (Province)    Alsatian (French)           Alsatian/ French
                       (French for government, some public and some business)

Home                        Alsatian                               Alsatian

GASCON (Occitan) People/Ethnicity
400,000 in France (Also in Spain)

Nationality            French
Mother Tongue    French (150,000)
                           Gascon (250,000)
Second Language   French

Level                        Designation/Identity        Language

International                French Nationality             French    

National                      French (Alsatian)              French

Region                        Gascon (French)        French language primary

Community                  Gascon                   Gascon Speakers: Gascon
                                        French Speakers: French
                                        (51% speak it; 71% hear it and can reply in French,
85% favor it as their language -Ethnologue)

Home                        Gascon                Gascon Speakers: Gascon (French)

                                 Gascon                     French Speakers: French


KIKUYU People/Ethnicity
6,000,000 in Kenya (traditional home area) (Also in other East African countries)

Mother Tongue    Kikuyu
Second Languages     English/Swahili

Level                        Designation/Identity        Language

International                     African
                                    Kenyan Nationality        English    

Broad Ethnolinguistic     Bantu (Kenyan)            English (Swahili)

National                        Kikuyu (Kenyan)        Kikuyu/English (Swahili)

Central Kenya              Kikuyu                       Kikuyu (English/Swahili)

Home                           Kikuyu                       Kikuyu (English)

Nairobi Home              Kikuyu                       English/

(Nairobi-raised or schooled Kikuyu may have English or Swahili mother tongue with Kikuyu as second language or have no Kikuyu. Many Kikuyu have married non-Kikuyu and home language for children is sometimes English, sometimes Swahili, sometimes full bilingualism)


GIRIAMA (Mijikenda Group) People/Ethnicity
1,200,000 in Kenya

Nationality           Kenyan
Mother Tongue    Giriama, Duruma, Chonyi or Digo
Second Language     Swahili

Level                        Designation/Identity        Language

International                     African
                                        Kenyan Nationality           English    

Broad Ethnolinguistic           Bantu (Kenyan)             English (Swahili)

name of largest tribe     Giriama               Swahili/English

Coastal     -- large tribe name/language    Giriama -- Duruma -- Digo    Swahili (Giriama, Duruma or Digo)
                    623,000 247,000 217,000
--------------------------------------------------    (usually use name of tribe for language name,
Local          Chonyi Giriama Ribe Duruma Digo     even though linguists consider many of them
tribal name
         121,000 Jibana Kambe              to be dialects of Giriama language)
and language                 Rabai                 
Local towns or cities same identities, but Swahili will be used commonly for business

(Mombasa-raised or schooled Mijikenda may have Swahili mother tongue with home language as second language, or may have full bilingualism in home language. Some Mijikenda have married non-Mijikenda and home language for children is sometimes Swahili, sometimes equal bilingualism. For some in Nairobi, English may be a primary (most-used) if not a mother tongue.)

Also related
Assimilation:  Articles and Presentations
Ethnicity, Language and Population
Identifying a People Group
Multi-Level Ethnicity:  Illustrating Different Views of the Same Ethnic Group at Different Levels
Peoples and Languages
The Rough Edges of Ethnicity


First developed for a seminar 12 August 2004
Expanded 4 May 2006
Last edited 10 November 2007
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 12 November 2007
Last edited 30 August 2010

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006, 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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