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see also assimilation

American Indian portraits featuring selective assimilation
 or acculturation, 1878-1924

Acculturation is a handy academic term to use when you don't want to say "assimilation" but want to indicate some degree of cross-cultural exchange or mimicry.

But descriptions of exchanges signified by "acculturation" vary widely.

For seminars related to this website, acculturation refers particularly to the "selective assimilation" a minority group may make with a dominant culture that does not allow or encourage full assimilation.

Assimilation is often seen as a fairly rapid sequence of total change, as in the three-generation assimilation pattern for immigrants known as Hansen's Law.

Acculturation operates more gradually over longer periods in which a minority ethnic group maintains elements of its traditional culture while selectively adopting or absorbing dominant-culture practices or elements that do not overwhelm their original culture.

Examples of acculturation in this sense:

Except in much earlier times, horses did not exist in North America until brought here by Spanish. However, by the time Anglo-Americans encountered tribes like the Sioux in northern North America, horses were completely absorbed into their Native American culture and religion, as though they had always been there. ("Traditional" cultures often acculturate rather than assimilate.)

The use of Snomobiles in place of dog sleds by the Inuit. (

Teaching and Learning with Native Americans: Understanding Native Americans and Acculturation

Example 1: A Native American individual may come to Phoenix and live with a relative and decide to go back to school. The individual may go home to the reservation on weekends for social gatherings or to help parents/grandparents with crops, livestock, and chores at home. The family utilizes the Indian Health Service when in the city but will go home for traditional healing ceremonies when needed. . . . This individual will probably be traditional to some extent but yet also acculturated in the sense that the individual is getting an education and living in the city.

Oxford English Dictionary: Adoption of or adaptation to a different culture, esp. that of a colonizing, conquering, or majority group; an instance of this. cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; also: a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact

Rice University Hispanic Health: Acculturation is a process in which members of one cultural group adopt the beliefs and behaviors of another group. Although acculturation is usually in the direction of a minority group adopting habits and language patterns of the dominant group, acculturation can be reciprocal—that is, the dominant group also adopts patterns typical of the minority group. Assimilation of one cultural group into another may be evidenced by changes in language preference, adoption of common attitudes and values, membership in common social groups and institutions, and loss of separate political or ethnic identification.

from Yahoo Answers: What is the difference between assimilation and acculturation?

Thank you for this question which is of utmost interest for a social worker (which I am...). Here is what I found for you:

Cultural assimilation (often called merely assimilation) is a process of integration whereby members of an ethno-cultural community (such as immigrants, or ethnic minorities) are "absorbed" into another, generally larger, community. This implies the loss of the characteristics of the absorbed group, such as language, customs, ethnicity and self-identity.

Assimilation may be spontaneous, which is usually the case with immigrants, or forced, as is often the case of the assimilation of ethnic minorities (see forced assimilation).

A region or society where several different groups are spontaneously assimilated is sometimes referred to as a melting pot.


Acculturation is the exchange of cultural features that results when groups come into continuous firsthand contact; the original cultural patterns of either or both groups may be altered, but the groups remain distinct. (Kottak 2007)

However, anthropologist Franz Boas (1888, pp. 631-632) argued that all people acculturate, not only "savages" and minorities: "It is not too much to say that there is no people whose customs have developed uninfluenced by foreign culture, that has not borrowed arts and ideas which it has developed in its own way", giving the example that "the steel harpoon used by American and Scotch whalers is a slightly modified imitation of the Eskimo harpoon".

Subsequently, anthropologists Redfield, Linton and Herskovits (1936, p.149) developed the oft quoted definition: "Acculturation comprehends those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups".

Despite definitions and evidence that acculturation entails two-way processes of change, research and theory have continued with a focus on the adjustments and changes experienced by aboriginal peoples, immigrants, sojourners, and other minorities in response to their contact with the dominant majority.

Thus, acculturation can be conceived to be the processes of cultural learning imposed upon minorities by the fact of being minorities. If enculturation is first-culture learning, then acculturation is second-culture learning. This has often been conceived to be a unidimensional, zero-sum cultural conflict in which the minority's culture is displaced by the dominant group's culture in a process of assimilation. . . .

Another source on acculturation as "selective assimilation":

Univision Research Inc.: Elizabeth Ellers, "Acculturation is Not a One-Way Street"

 . . . Our research is full of examples of a sort of “a-la-carte acculturation” in which Hispanics are quickly and eagerly adopting some aspects of mainstream American culture while holding on tightly to aspects of the Hispanic culture. Yankelovich MONITOR has found that 80% of Hispanics agree that “Immigrants to this country should be prepared to adapt to the American way of life” yet 87% also agree that they Feel need to preserve my own cultural traditions.” . . .

 . . . understanding how Hispanic consumers interact with their brands is the first step in capitalizing on this growth opportunity.

A few illustrations of this dynamic in everyday life:

  • Walmart stocks its Hispanic Supercenters with both dried beans in bulk and Welch’s squeezable grape jelly, because Walmart has learned that Hispanic moms are shopping for family meals in which she values traditional foods and also shopping for her children who have acquired a taste for PB&J at school.
  • According to The Associated Press-Univision Poll conducted in 2010 by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, 41% of Hispanic-Americans observe Semana Santa (Holy Week) while 75% celebrate the Fourth of July. Two of the most popular foods among Hispanic-Americans are beans and rice AND macaroni and cheese.
  • One in five Hispanic-American men watched both the Super Bowl AND the World Cup tournament in 2010, again demonstrating that adopting some aspects of non-Hispanic American culture is not done at the expense of retaining an important part of Hispanic popular culture.
  • Hispanics are as likely to eat peppers (54%) as they are to eat pickles (53%), and almost as likely to eat bagels (53%) as tortillas (66%).

We also see examples of “neo-acculturation,” in which Hispanics experiment with some aspects of American culture, trying them on for size, so to speak, but then returning to their roots. Marriage and parenthood is often a trigger, when Hispanic-Americans re-assert the importance of carrying on their language, values, cultures and traditions to the next generation. . . .