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Acculturation vs. Assimilation: Definition & Examples

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Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education

Assimilation and acculturation begin when two cultures collide. Explore the differences between these closely related terms and analyze a few examples. Updated: 12/06/2021

What Is Assimilation?

Whenever two cultures come into more than casual contact, it is inevitable that they will both be changed. There are, of course, variables to this. Which culture is going to change more? How long will it take? Which of the cultural markers will change and how? Let's take a closer look at how these things work.

The most common cultural change when two cultures compete is assimilation of the minority culture into the majority culture. The minority culture gradually loses all of the markers that set it apart as a separate culture in the first place. Markers include things like languages, food, and customs. Eventually, the minority culture becomes almost indistinguishable from the majority culture.

However, this scenario leaves out the fact assimilation is usually a two-way process. Yes, the minority culture does change dramatically and loses cultural separateness, but the majority culture also changes during this process. It's a lot like cooking: when you add salt it quickly becomes invisible, but the final meal is changed as well. While the looks of the meal may not appear greatly changed by the addition, it is different after the assimilation in recognizable and important ways.

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  • 0:01 What Is Assimilation?
  • 1:18 What Is Acculturation?
  • 2:11 Examples of…
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What Is Acculturation?

If enough of the cultural markers of language, tradition, and food from the minority culture are maintained for the members to be able to recognize themselves as a distinct culture, then it is said to have undergone acculturation instead of assimilation. This type of change is much more likely to happen during voluntary migrations or peaceful coexistence, rather than as a result of the conquests or forced coexistence that typically characterize assimilation.

Of course, acculturation is also a two-way process because both cultures will still change and be affected by each other. To return to the cooking analogy, acculturation would be akin to adding an ingredient that is still recognizable in the final meal: basil leaves into an omelet, for example. This ingredient can still be distinctly recognized in the final dish, but both the ingredient and the product are different than before the acculturation.

Examples of Acculturation and Assimilation

Any time two cultures come into prolonged contact, assimilation or acculturation will start to happen. Let's look at a few examples to give you a better idea of these processes.

Roman Empire and Greece

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