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Acculturation and Intergroup Communication

Summary and Keywords

Acculturation is the process of bidirectional change that occurs when two ethnolinguistic groups come in sustained contact with one another. Acculturation usually occurs between groups of unequal power, status, and demographic background. At stake for the unity of multilingual states are intergroup relations between language minorities and majorities that yield harmonious to conflictual outcomes. The Interactive Acculturation Model (IAM) is adapted to intergroup relations between language communities in four parts. The first part of the model provides an overview of the ethnolinguistic vitality framework accounting for the strength of minority/majority language communities as they struggle to gain the institutional support they need to develop as distinctive and thriving language communities. The second part of the IAM offers an analysis of the pluralist, civic, assimilationist, and exclusionist ideologies that underpin language policies regulating the co-existence of minority/majority language communities. The third part examines the acculturation orientations endorsed by majority and minority language group speakers. The fourth part of the IAM proposes that the interaction of majority and minority acculturation orientations yield intergroup communication outcomes that may range from harmonious, problematic, to conflictual. Taken together, the IAM model offers a conceptual tool for analyzing the fate of linguistic minorities as they seek to survive in the dominant majority group environments of post-modern globalizing states.

Keywords: acculturation, Interactive Acculturation Model, language ideologies, minorities, vitality groups, intergroup communication


We have room for one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house.

— Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt

Language is a key dimension of social identity: it is a carrier of culture and situates speakers on the social map by ethnicity, cultural background, and regional and national origin (Giles & Watson, 2013). Despite the spread of English through globalization, regional languages are often seen as the most important aspect of national identity in many countries around the world. In a recent PEW Research survey of national identity, respondents were asked how important being able to speak their national language was in being a true citizen of their country (PEW Research Centre, 2017). In the Netherlands as many as 84% of respondents asserted that knowing Dutch was the most important requirement for true Dutch national identity. Being able to speak the national language was most important for true national identity for respondents in the United Kingdom (81%), Germany (79%), France (77%), Greece (76%), the United States, (70%), Japan (70%), Australia (69%), and Spain (62%). Such loyalty to the national language is a testimony to nation-building efforts by central governments to enshrine their official language as the unifying symbol of their nation, and this is despite the presence of numerous regional and immigrant language minorities in many of these countries (Dragojevic, Giles, & Watson, 2013).

This chapter describes the Interactive Acculturation Model (IAM), which is modified to offer an intergroup approach to relations between linguistic minority/majority group relations within multilingual states (Bourhis, 2001; Bourhis & Montreuil, 2017). The first part of the model examines the vitality of language minorities and majorities in contact situations across different institutional settings of modern states. The second part of the model provides an analysis of language policies regulating the status of minority and majority language communities in multilingual societies. The third part examines acculturation orientations adopted by linguistic minority and majority group speakers. The fourth part proposes that acculturation orientations of linguistic minority and majority group speakers interact and can have an impact on the intergroup communications that may result in harmonious, problematic, or conflictual relational outcomes. The IAM model was first developed to examine intergroup relations between acculturating immigrant and host communities and received empirical support in different North American and European settings (Bourhis, Moise, Perreault, & Senecal, 1997). However, the IAM model developed for linguistic minority/majority group relations remains to be tested empirically, and as such its conceptual framework remains a work in progress.

Language Groups and Ethnolinguistic Vitality

As seen in Figure 1, the ethnolinguistic vitality of language groups is a key component of the IAM model, as it is the vitality of coexisting ethnolinguistic groups that are usually targeted by government integration and language policies. The IAM model proposes that the acculturation orientations of strong vitality language group members can have a powerful impact on the acculturation orientations of weaker vitality group members, reflecting the ascendency of dominant language majorities over more vulnerable linguistic minorities. Ethnolinguistic vitality is defined as “that which makes a group likely to behave as a distinctive and collective entity within the intergroup setting” (Giles, Bourhis, & Taylor, 1977, p. 308). The more vitality an ethnolinguistic group has, the more likely it is to survive and thrive as a strong collective entity. Conversely, ethnolinguistic groups that have little or no vitality are more vulnerable and likely to assimilate and eventually cease to exist as distinctive language groups within intergroup settings (Bourhis & Landry, 2012; Giles & Johnson, 1987).

Linguistic minorities may be national ones established before the creation of a country, such as aboriginals in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United States. Linguistic minority communities can be regional ones present since the creation of the state, such as the Basque, Catalan, and Galicians in Spain. Immigrant linguistic communities may span many generations as established minorities in the host country such as Italians, Greeks, Hispanics, Chinese and Arabs in the United States and Canada.

As proposed in the Reversing Language Shift model (RLS; Fishman, 1991), most linguistic minority and majority communities have an enduring desire to maintain and transmit their language and culture to the next generation, especially within the proximal daily home-family-neighborhood network. However, maintaining this proximal network of own group language users is not sufficient for the survival and development of language minorities who must also seek some control of their educational, health-care, commercial, and regional government institutions (Fishman, 2001). The ethnolinguistic vitality framework provides a conceptual bridge with the RLS model by analyzing the full range of socio-structural variables affecting the strength of minority and majority language communities. Three broad socio-structural dimensions influence the vitality of ethnolinguistic groups: demographic, institutional control , and status factors.

Acculturation and Intergroup Communication

Figure 1. Interactive Acculturation Model (IAM). Government Integration and Language Policies as they Relate to the Ethnolinguistic Vitality and Acculturation Orientations of Strong/Weak Vitality Communities Resulting in Harmonious to Conflictual Intergroup Relation Outcomes. Adapted from Bourhis (2001).

Demographic variables are related to the absolute number of speakers composing the language group and their distribution throughout the urban, regional, or national territory. Number factors refer to the language community’s absolute group numbers, their birth rate, mortality rate, age pyramid, mixed marriages, and their patterns of immigration and emigration in and out of their territory. Distribution factors refer to the numeric concentration of speakers in various parts of the territory, their proportion relative to outgroup speakers, and whether or not the language community still occupies its ancestral territory. These demographic factors can be based on combinations of the following linguistic indicators often found in census data: mother tongue, knowledge of a first (L1) and second (L2) language, use of L1 and/or L2 language at home. Taken together, these indicators can be used to monitor demolinguistic trends such as language maintenance in L1, language shift to L2, inter-generational transmission of the mother tongue and language loss. Within democracies, demographic factors constitute a fundamental asset for ethnolinguistic groups, as “strength in numbers” can be used as a legitimizing tool to grant language communities the institutional support they need to thrive within multilingual societies.

Institutional control is defined as the degree of power one group has over its own fate and that of outgroups. The extent to which a language group has gained informal and formal representation in the institutions of a city, region, or country constitutes its institutional completeness. Informal control refers to the way a language minority has organized itself as a pressure group to extend the use its own language for local in-group activities such as advocacy, cultural production, sports, leisure, and commerce. Relatedly, the RLS model proposes incremental stages in which linguistic minorities strategically build their institutional control from their family-home-neighborhood networks to local own group language schools (Fishman, 2001). Following such gains, linguistic minorities can then seek more formal control for their language community in majority decision-making spheres including national education, health care, social services, the police, justice, the economy, mass media, and within established cultural, sport, and religious institutions. Language minorities may also succeed in getting their regional or national government to adopt language laws that officially recognize the status of their minority language as co-official languages of the nation-state. The presence of quality leaders who can head the formal and informal institutions representing language minorities also contributes to the institutional control of language communities. Language groups that gained strong institutional control within state and private institutions are in a better position to safeguard and enhance their collective language and cultural capital compared to minorities who lack such institutional control. Language groups need to achieve and maintain a favorable position on the institutional control front if they wish to survive as distinctive collective entities within multilingual states.

Status variables are related to a language community’s social prestige, its sociohistorical status within the state, and the prestige of its language and culture locally, nationally, and internationally. The more status a language community is ascribed to have, the more vitality it is likely to possess. Speakers of high-status languages can more readily mobilize to maintain or improve their vitality position within their region or country (Giles & Johnson, 1987). For instance, Quebec’s mobilization for language laws enshrining the status of French relative to English was facilitated by the prestige of French as the national language of France and its spread as the language of the world “Francophonie” network of countries (Bourhis, 1997; Bourhis, Montaruli, & Amiot, 2007). Conversely, lesser-recognized languages such as Navajo in the United States undermine the capacity of indigenous minorities to struggle to obtain the institutional support they need to survive as distinctive language communities (Lee & McLaughlin, 2001). The experience of belonging to a high vs. low-status language community is more vivid when status differentials between ethnolinguistic groups are perpetuated through language ideologies (Phillipson, 1988), linguicism (Sioufi & Bourhis, 2017), and prejudices toward “valued” and “devalued” languages, dialects, and accents (Giles & Watson, 2013; Lippi-Green, 2004).

Demographic, institutional control and status dimensions combine to affect, in one direction or the other, the overall strength or vitality of ethnolinguistic groups. A language community may be weak on demographic variables but strengthening on institutional control thanks to language planning efforts resulting in a medium vitality position such as the Basque in Spain (Azurmendi & Martinez de Luna, 2005). In contrast, a linguistic minority may be weak on demographic, institutional support and status dimensions resulting in weak vitality such as the Alsatians, Basque, and Breton in France. The objective vitality framework was used to describe the relative position and wellness of language groups in numerous bilingual and multilingual settings in the world (Bourhis & Landry, 2012).

Subjective Vitality and Language Mobilization

How speakers perceive the vitality of their own language community relative to salient outgroups may be as important as objective assessments of group vitality. The subjective vitality questionnaire (SVQ) was designed to measure group members’ assessments of in/outgroup vitality on items constituting the demographic, institutional control, and status dimensions of the objective vitality framework (Bourhis, Giles, & Rosenthal, 1981). A review of vitality research using the SVQ indicates that despite some perceptual biases, group members are realistic in perceiving their overall vitality position along the lines suggested by objective assessments of ethnolinguistic vitality (Abrams, Barker, & Giles, 2009; Harwood, Giles, & Bourhis, 1994).

Subjective vitality perceptions of ingroup/outgroup language communities are considered general exocentric beliefs, while egocentric beliefs are what language group members feel they should do about their own community vitality (Allard & Landry, 1986). Although group members may perceive that their language minority is weak on most vitality factors as per exocentric beliefs, they may endorse ego beliefs in favor of mobilizing personally and collectively to improve their own group vitality on strategic institutional control such as education, health care, and municipal services. Research suggests that egocentric beliefs are better predictors of language attitudes and collective mobilization to improve ingroup vitality than general exocentric beliefs (Allard & Landry, 1994). Egocentric beliefs about whether to mobilize or not for improving minority vitality may reflect the “ideological clarification” undertaken by vocal minorities about the necessity and legitimacy of defending and developing their own minority language in sometimes hostile dominant majority language group settings (Fishman, 1991). As proposed in the cultural autonomy model (CAM), mobilization to develop minority language vitality also depends on strong collective ingroup identification, which itself is nurtured by ideological legitimacy, social proximity of ingroup speaker network, and degree of institutional completeness (Bourhis & Landry, 2012; Landry, Allard, & Deveau, 2010; Montaruli, Bourhis, & Azurmendi, 2011).

Ideological Premises of Language Policies

In multilingual settings, “free market forces” usually favor the ascendancy of the dominant language majority and its institutions, often to the disadvantage of weaker vitality linguistic minorities (Fishman, 1991). As a counterpoint to free market forces, linguistic minorities often need the support of state language policies to provide the institutional support they need to maintain their vitality in settings where the dominant majority may be unaware, indifferent, or hostile toward vulnerable linguistic minorities (Fishman, 2001). Though low vitality language minorities can be given a say in the development of such language policies in democratic states, their weaker demographic position undermines their ability to influence government adoption of the language laws needed to sustain the use of their minority language in key institutional domains such as education, health care, the judiciary and in work settings.

Language laws can be seen as the most demanding and transformative types of state integration policies toward linguistic minorities. Cultural integration policies developed to apply only in the language of the dominant language majority do not have as systemic an impact on majority institutions as do integration policies that include the addition of minority languages use within public and private institutions of the majority community. Ideally, from the point of view of linguistic minorities, integration policies should include both cultural sensitivity and the offer of stable minority language services embedded within state and private institutions. The inclusion of a minority language within the organizational structure of government services such as bilingual health care, education, and judicial services not only provides institutional support for linguistic minorities but also offers needed jobs for minority speakers in such organizations. The inclusion of minority bilingual employees may then transform from within, features of majority institutions to make them more responsive to the needs of the linguistic minority communities they serve, and this without undermining services offered in the language of the majority.

The IAM proposes that high-vitality majority groups have the demographic base and institutional control to establish the state language policies that best serve their interests relative to linguistic minorities. It remains that high and low vitality language communities often compete to promote the institutional vitality of their respective language groups. Through negotiation or imposition, the outcome of this competition is reflected in the language policies that are eventually adopted by ruling governments of de facto multilingual countries (Shohamy, 2006).

As seen in Figure 1, four clusters of state ideologies shape the language and integration policies of multilingual states. These language policies reflect integration ideologies that can be situated on a diversity continuum including the pluralist, the civic, the assimilationist, and exclusionist ideologies (Bourhis, 2001). Each of these ideological clusters produces specific language and cultural policies concerning the maintenance or assimilation of weaker vitality language minorities within a given state. This ideological continuum also provides the public policy backdrop needed to contextualize the type of citizenship and integration strategies adopted by societies toward immigrants and linguistic minorities (Bloemraad, Korteweg, & Yurdaku, 2008). The sustained implementation of these pro-diversity (pluralism) to intolerant (exclusionist) language and cultural policies can impact intergroup harmony and social cohesion. Such public policies foster a social climate that may affect the identities of strong/weak vitality community speakers, their identity management strategies, and ultimately their bilingual/multilingual communication strategies (Bourhis, Sioufi, & Sachdev, 2012). The sustained impact of these language policies eventually affects the capacity of linguistic minorities to transmit their language to the next generation of speakers—thus affecting the language maintenance vs. language loss prospects of linguistic minorities.

Pluralism Ideology

The pluralism ideology implies that language majorities and minorities should adopt public values that include acceptance of the democratic process, obedience to civil and criminal codes, and endorsement of the Constitution and/or Charters of Rights and Freedoms, which include antidiscrimination laws protecting vulnerable ethnolinguistic minorities from prejudice. Such public values may also include the responsibility of citizens to learn one or more languages adopted as official or co-official languages of the national state or in specific regions of the state. The pluralism ideology upholds that the state has no right to regulate the private values of citizens, whose individual liberties in personal domains such as the home and private relations must be respected. Private values include freedom of association in the linguistic, cultural, political, and religious spheres, as well as freedom for linguistic minorities to learn and transmit languages of their choice for use at home, private schools and interpersonal communication. Linguistic minorities depend on dominant language majorities to approve language diversity laws that in the long run help limit the intergenerational language loss among minorities—which in turn promotes heritage language maintenance and development. The cumulative effects of language laws providing institutional support for minority languages improves language maintenance for linguistic minorities while promoting their long term integration as bilinguals within the majority society.

The pluralism ideology implies that in addition to implementing knowledge and use of the majority language, the state may also financially and socially support the maintenance of the linguistic, cultural, and religious distinctiveness of its minorities. Such minorities are seen as enhancing the diversity and economic adaptiveness of the larger society. The pluralism ideology proposes that, because both high and low vitality language communities pay taxes, some state funds should be allocated to support minority language schooling, health care, and social services. The ideology assumes that the culture and institutions of the dominant majority may need to be transformed through “reasonable accommodation” to serve the linguistic, cultural and religious needs of minority groups (Kymlicka, 1995). However, it is recognized that, by virtue of their weaker vitality position, minorities are more likely to be transformed through assimilation across the generations than is the case for the high vitality majority.

An example of a language policy inspired by pluralism is Canada’s Official Languages Act, which recognizes the equality of French and English as co-official languages in Canada, especially for the provision of federal government bilingual services to the Canadian population (Jedwab & Landry, 2011). The Canadian bilingualism policy was recognized as paving the way for the adoption of the 1988 Multiculturalism Act, an official pluralism policy adopted for the support of immigrant cultural diversity and integration, equity treatment of minority communities, combating racism and discrimination, fostering intercultural and interfaith understanding (Gao & Wong, 2015; Bloemraad, 2006).

Civic Ideology

As in the case of the pluralism ideology, the civic ideology assumes that both majority and minority linguistic communities should adopt the public and private values of the state. Unlike the pluralism ideology, the civic ideology does not fund the activities of linguistic and cultural minorities. However, this ideology does respect the right of individual citizens to organize both as community groups and financially to maintain or promote their respective languages through afterhours schooling, weekend cultural and religious activities, and private linguistic health clinics and ethnolinguistic entrepreneurship. In multilingual states, the civic ideology amounts to state funding of the linguistic and cultural interests of the dominant language group, often portrayed as the neutral unifying embodiment of the nation from past to present. It is in the name of a neutral state that the civic ideology legitimizes the absence of official recognition and financial support of its linguistic and cultural minorities. The survival of linguistic and cultural minorities is thus left up to free market forces, which, as the language planning literature demonstrated, usually favor the dominant language and culture of the majority (Fishman, 2001). Under the pretext of neutral non-intervention in linguistic issues, dominant majorities can, in effect, accelerate the language shift and language loss of linguistic minorities in multilingual states.

Assimilation Ideology

The assimilation ideology also expects citizens to adopt the public values of the nation-state. It also demands that minorities should abandon their own linguistic and cultural distinctiveness for the sake of adopting the language and values of the dominant language majority. Some countries expect this linguistic and cultural assimilation to occur voluntarily and gradually over time across the generations, but other states impose assimilation through regulations that repress the linguistic and cultural distinctiveness of minority groups in public domains such as the school system, health care, commerce, and the mass media. Usually, it is the economically and politically dominant language group that is more successful in imposing its language and culture as the unifying founding myth of the nation-state. For the greater cause of national unity, assimilationist policies are designed to accelerate the language and culture loss of its linguistic minorities. Dominant language majorities who endorse assimilationist policies often portray language minorities as a threat to the authenticity, homogeneity, and indivisibility of the nation-state (Barker & Giles, 2004; Crawford, 2000). State policies encouraging or enforcing linguistic assimilation resulted in the partial assimilation of second and third generation immigrants established in the United States (Ricento, 1998; Wiley, 2004). Such policies accelerated the linguistic and cultural assimilation of aboriginal national minorities of Canada and the United States (Fettes, 1998) and of historical regional language minorities such as the French in Canada (Landry,, 2010) and the Breton, Basque, and Occitan in France (Blanchet, 2016).

Linguistic minorities sometimes face a dilemma when at the local level a civic or a pluralist language policy is adopted, but at the national level an assimilationist policy is imposed by the language majority (Wiley & Wright, 2004). Multilingual cities may adopt more pluralist policies to facilitate the linguistic and cultural integration of their immigrant urban populations than is the case at the national level where assimilationist policies may better reflect dominant majority preferences. Likewise, public and private organizations in urban centers may adopt pluralist integration policies as their organizational culture including bilingual services to better serve the linguistic diversity of their local clients and employees. City core health clinics and hospitals serving multilingual/multicultural patients may adopt bilingual organizational cultures for local linguistic minorities, whereas hospitals serving linguistically homogeneous majority group patients in suburbs may adopt a more assimilationist or civic organizational culture.

Exclusionist Ideology

As in the case of the assimilationist ideology, the exclusionist ideology encourages or forces linguistic minorities to give up their own language and culture for the sake of adopting the language of the dominant majority. Unlike the assimilationist ideology, the exclusionist ideology makes it difficult for linguistic minorities to be accepted legally or socially as authentic members of the majority, no matter how much such minorities assimilate linguistically and culturally to the dominant group. Unlike the other ideologies discussed so far, the exclusionist ideology usually defines “who can be” and “who should be” citizens of the state in ethnically or religiously exclusive terms (Bloemraad et al., 2008). This ideology is sometimes enshrined in the notion of blood belonging whereby only members of selected racial groups can gain full legal access to citizenship (Kaplan, 1993). In such states, the nation is defined as being composed of a kernel ancestral ethnolinguistic group as determined by birth, kinship, and shared “historical destiny.” Linguistic minorities and immigrants who do not share this kinship may never be fully accepted as legitimate citizens of the state.

An example of the exclusionist ideology is the Canadian policy of residential schools that was designed to force the extinction of the linguistic, cultural, and religious identities of first-nation indigenous children across segregated Indian reservations in Canada from 1880 to 1996. Indigenous children were taken from their parents by white authorities and forced to stay in boarding schools designed to assimilate them to English and the Protestant church in English Canada, and to the French- language and Catholic church in Quebec. Indigenous cultures were disparaged, and pupils were forbidden to speak their ancestral languages in class or among one another. Poor quality food, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate winter clothing accounted for the death of 3,200 children in residential schools (Canada, 2016). The scope and violence of this exclusionist policy of forced deculturation of indigenous children is understated in the official Statement of Apology expressed on behalf of the Government of Canada by the prime minister in the Canadian Parliament on June 11, 2008:

The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history. For more than a century, Indian Residential Schools separated over 150,000 Aboriginal children from their families and communities . . . Two primary objectives of the Residential Schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child.Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country . . . One hundred and thirty-two federally-supported schools were located in every province and territory . . . The Government of Canada built an educational system in which very young children were often forcibly removed from their homes, often taken far from their communities. Many were inadequately fed, clothed and housed. All were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents, grandparents and communities. First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools. Tragically, some of these children died while attending residential schools and others never returned home. The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language. The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing and reconciliation. Therefore, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this Chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to Aboriginal peoples for Canada’s role in the Indian Residential Schools system. The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly (Canada, 2016, pp. 369–371).

As documented in numerous government studies, the forced deculturation of first-nation children in residential schools caused much physical and psychological hardships while not promoting the social or economic inclusion of first-nation peoples who remained rejected from mainstream Canadian society (Canada, 2016).

Language Policies and Intergroup Tensions

In democracies, language policies usually reflect the most prevalent ideological orientations endorsed by the dominant language majority (Figure 1). In a given country, the majority of the population may endorse the assimilationist ideology, whereas the civic ideology receives moderate support and the exclusionist and pluralist ideologies are endorsed by fewer majority group members. Depending on economic, political, demographic, and military events occurring at the national and international levels, politicians elected by the majority of citizens can shift language policies from one ideological orientation to the other. Political tensions may emerge between factions of the dominant population holding rival ideological views on language policies. The polarization of ideological positions regarding such issues may lead to the formation of xenophobic political parties that may succeed in shifting language policies from a pluralism position to an assimilationist or exclusionist ideology (e.g., English Only Movement in the U.S.; “Vlaams Belang” in Flanders, “Front National” in France). However, mobilized ethnolinguistic minorities with efficient leadership may succeed in convincing national majorities and their governments to change existing assimilationist language policies to more tolerant approaches such as the civic and pluralist language policies.

Once language policies are adopted by the state at the local or national level, the government apparatus applying such language laws in effect stabilizes and legitimizes the inclusion or exclusion of minority languages not only in public domains of language use but eventually in private everyday discourse. Thus, both top-down and bottom-up pressures can shift language policies from one pole of the ideological continuum to the other over time and in different cities or regions of a state. Taken together, language and integration policies applied at the local and national level can have a substantial impact on multilingual communication, on language assimilation, language revival, and on the acculturation orientations of linguistic minorities as well as members of the dominant language majority.

Acculturation Orientations of Strong/Weak Vitality Group Speakers

Acculturation is the process of bidirectional change that occurs when two ethnolinguistic groups come in sustained contact with one another (Sam & Berry, 2016). Psychological acculturation refers to changes experienced by individuals whose ethnolinguistic group is collectively experiencing acculturation (Berry, 1997). Acculturation processes involve changes in the cultural and linguistic repertoire of individual speakers whose own language group is in sustained contact with high or low vitality outgroups (Giles, Bonilla, & Speer, 2012). Individuals experiencing extensive cross-cultural contact with linguistic outgroups may shift from being unilingual in their mother tongue (L1) to being bilingual or trilingual in L2 and L3, while their progeny may become unilingual in the dominant language of the majority.

The struggle of linguistic minorities to maintain their own language and culture may not only depend on their objective/subjective vitality positions and state language policies but also on acculturation orientation endorsed by individual members of minority and majority ethnolinguistic communities. A fundamental premise of the IAM model is that not all members of a majority group hold the same opinions about how minorities and majorities should relate to each other. The IAM seeks to integrate the following components of minority and majority intergroup relations: (1) acculturation orientations adopted by the dominant majority; (2) acculturation orientations adopted by language/cultural minorities; (3) intergroup communication outcomes which may be harmonious, problematic, or conflictual. Intergroup communication outcomes between linguistic minorities and language majority speakers include language choice strategies during cross cultural communication as well as longer-term outcomes such as language maintenance, language shift, and language loss (Bourhis, 2001).

The IAM model proposes that by virtue of their strong vitality position, dominant language majorities play a major role in shaping the acculturation orientations of linguistic minorities by telling them how they should integrate culturally and linguistically. The IAM proposes that dominant language groups can endorse three welcoming and three unwelcoming acculturation orientations toward linguistic and immigrant minorities. The welcoming orientations are integration, integration-transformation, and individualism, whereas the three unwelcoming orientations are assimilation, segregation, and exclusion. These dominant majority acculturation orientations can be assessed using the host community acculturation scale (HCAS; Montreuil & Bourhis, 2001, 2004).

Majority Acculturation Orientations

Dominant language group members who endorse the integrationism orientation accept and value the maintenance of the language and culture of linguistic minorities, while also acknowledging that such minorities adopt important features of the majority culture including knowledge and use of the dominant language. This orientation implies that dominant majority members value a stable bilingualism and biculturalism among minorities that may, in the long term, contribute to cultural and linguistic pluralism as an enduring feature of the majority society. Integrationism-transformation is endorsed by dominant majority members who not only accept and value the linguistic and cultural contribution of minorities as in the case of the integrationist orientation but are also willing to adapt and transform features of their own institutional practices to accommodate the linguistic and cultural needs of minorities. Such adjustments could include state-funded bilingualism in health and schooling. Individualists define themselves and others as individuals rather than as members of social categories such as linguistic or ethnic group members. For individualists, it is the personal qualities of each individual, rather than group memberships, that are most important.

The assimilationist orientation corresponds to the traditional concept of absorption, whereby dominant group members expect linguistic minorities to relinquish their heritage language and culture for the sake of adopting the language and culture of the majority society. The assimilationist orientation implies that dominant group members will eventually consider linguistic minorities who have assimilated as full-fledged members of the majority society by treating them as equal citizens of the state. Members of the dominant majority who endorse a segregationist orientation accept that minorities maintain their heritage language and culture as long as such minorities stay separate from majority group members. Segregationists disfavor cross-cultural contacts with minorities as such relations could dilute the authenticity of the majority culture and undermine the status and use of the majority language. Segregationists feel threatened by the presence of linguistic minorities and prefer such outgroups to remain together in separate urban or regional enclaves while being ambivalent regarding the status of such minorities as rightful members of society. Members of the dominant majority who endorse the exclusionist orientation are not only intolerant of the maintenance of minority group languages and cultures but also fear that such minorities may contaminate the authenticity of the majority if they adopt the dominant language and culture. Basically, exclusionists believe that linguistic, cultural, and religious minorities can never be incorporated as rightful members of the majority society and would prefer such minorities to leave.

Studies using the host community acculturation scale (HCAS) were conducted mainly with majority undergraduates in North America and Europe who rated salient immigrant minorities whose ethnic and language background varied depending on their country of origin. However, few empirical studies have specifically examined majority speaker acculturation orientations toward immigrants, national minorities and indigenous communities whose language background varied systematically. Such majority speaker acculturation studies toward language minorities are needed not only in North America and Europe but also in multilingual countries of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

The following studies of language majority acculturation orientations toward immigrant and linguistic minorities were conducted with university undergraduates in North America and Europe, thus controlling for socioeconomic status and level of education. Results obtained with language majority respondents showed that integrationism and individualism were the most strongly endorsed acculturation orientations toward immigrant ethnolinguistic minorities, whereas the more demanding integration-transformation orientation was only weakly endorsed (Bourhis, Montaruli, El-Geledi, Harvey, & Barrette, 2010). Host majority assimilationist orientations were somewhat endorsed, and the segregationist and exclusionist orientations were least endorsed toward ethnolinguistic immigrants (Bourhis, Barrette, El-Geledi, & Schmidt, 2009; Rohmann, Florack, & Piontkowoski. 2006). Across these studies, results show that individualism and integrationism are more strongly endorsed for immigrant minorities that are valued socially than for linguistic minorities that are devalued (Montreuil & Bourhis, 2001). Conversely, majority speaker assimilationist, segregationist, and exclusionist orientations tend to be more strongly endorsed for devalued minorities than for valued linguistic and religious minorities (Barrette, Bourhis, Personnaz, & Personnaz, 2004; El-Geledi & Bourhis, 2012). Valued immigrants and ethnolinguistic minorities are perceived favorably by majorities because they are seen as contributing to the local economy, or because they are viewed as sharing a common language, culture, or religion with members of the majority society. Devalued immigrants and linguistic minorities are the target of prejudice and discrimination because they are seen as economic rivals for employment and housing, as a drain on health and welfare services, as a threat to the authenticity and cohesion of the majority culture, as a source of insecurity in certain neighborhoods, or seen as potential radicalized terrorists. The rhetoric justifying which immigrant and cultural minority group is ascribed a valued or devalued status usually reflects the historical, economic, and intergroup dynamics of the particular city, region, or country under study.

Studies conducted with more representative samples of majority group speakers revealed different patterns of endorsement which varied depending on private home settings vs. public work domains of acculturation (Arends-Toth & van de Vijver, 2004; Navas, Fernandez, Rojas, & Garcia, 2007). The proportion of majority members adopting each of the acculturation orientations may vary across time for the same target linguistic minority depending on changing demographic, economic, and political circumstances. Dominant majority orientations toward a particular minority may be mostly integrationist at first then shift toward assimilation as the minority population increases and becomes more insistent in claiming institutional support for its language and culture in the school system, health care, and social services.

In the above studies conducted with majority group speakers, it was possible to draw the social psychological profile of people endorsing each acculturation orientations toward immigrant and linguistic minorities (Montreuil & Bourhis, 2001; Bourhis et al., 2009, 2010). Results indicated that individualism and integrationism represent “live and let live” acculturation orientations. Individualists and integrationists enjoyed a secure social identity as majority group speakers, felt more comfortable with ethnolinguistic minorities, wanted close relations with both valued and devalued minorities, and felt that minorities wanted good relations with the majority community. Integrationists and individualists did not endorse authoritarian, social dominance, and ethnocentric ideologies; were more likely to identify with “left of center” political parties; and were more likely to endorse “civic belonging” rather than “ethnic belonging” beliefs regarding who can be considered a “true member” of the majority society (Bourhis, Barrette, & Moriconi, 2008).

In contrast, majority group speakers who endorsed the assimilationism, segregationism, and exclusionism orientations also endorsed the rejection of immigrant linguistic minorities while wishing to avoid minorities as colleagues at work, as neighbors, or as best friends. They were more likely to feel that their ingroup identity was threatened by the presence of devalued minorities. These majority group speakers were more likely to feel insecure culturally and linguistically while feeling besieged by the presence of immigrant and national minorities. They also tended to endorse ethnic belonging beliefs, social dominance orientations, to hold authoritarian and ethnocentric ideologies and were more likely to identify with right-wing political parties (Bourhis, Dayan, & Sioufi, 2013; Bourhis et al., 2009, 2010).

As proposed in Figure 1, state language policies are expected to influence the acculturation orientation of majority language communities whose elected representatives are likely to have voted for such language policies in the government. The simplest hypothesis is a match between the type of acculturation orientation preferred by language majority members and their support for the corresponding language policies depicted on the ideology continuum. For example, language majority members whose acculturation orientation is integrationist and integration-transformation are likely to favor the pluralism ideology of providing publicly funded institutional support for the maintenance of minority languages in health care and schools. In contrast, language majority members who endorse the assimilationist orientation are likely to endorse language policies along the civic to assimilationist segments of the ideological continuum. Assimilationists are unlikely to support any state funding for minority language services while supporting government measures eroding the transmission and use of minority languages. Exclusionist majority members are likely to prefer assimilationists or exclusionist language policies that repress the use and transmission of minority languages and cultures. Short of expulsing minorities to their country of origin, exclusionists would endorse measures designed to accelerate language shift resulting in complete language loss and deculturation of linguistic minorities. Exclusionists would favor the closing of national borders to block devalued immigrants and language minorities from entering the country.

Minority Acculturation Orientations

As seen in Figure 1, the IAM model proposes that linguistic minorities may adopt one of five acculturation orientations depending on their desire to maintain their heritage language and culture and their wish to adopt the language and culture of the dominant majority (Bourhis et al., 1997; Bourhis, 2001). These linguistic minority acculturation orientations are adapted from those of immigrant minorities adapting to their country of settlement proposed and documented by Berry (1997; Sam & Berry, 2016). The integrationism orientation reflects a desire to maintain key features of the linguistic and cultural minority identity while adopting aspects of the majority culture including its dominant language. Linguistic minorities who adopt the assimilationism strategy essentially relinquish their own linguistic and cultural identity for the sake of adopting the language and culture of the dominant majority. Those who adopt the separatism strategy have a desire to maintain their heritage language and culture while rejecting key aspects of the dominant culture and sometimes its language. The marginalization orientation characterizes minority individuals who feel estranged from both their own heritage language community and that of the dominant language majority. Alternatively, linguistic minority members who dissociate themselves from both their ethnolinguistic origin and the dominant majority may do so not because they feel marginalized but simply because they prefer to identify themselves as individuals rather than as members of either a minority or majority. Such individualists reject group ascriptions per se and prefer to treat others as individual persons, acknowledging their personal qualities and achievements..

These five acculturation orientations can be more or less adopted by members of a particular linguistic minority. A majority of individuals from a linguistic/cultural minority may endorse an integrationist orientation, whereas only a few individuals from that minority group may endorse assimilation or separation. Although most individuals from one language minority may adopt the assimilationist orientation, speakers from another background may prefer the separatist orientation following systemic rejection from the majority. Research on acculturation orientations endorsed by specific immigrant minorities is substantial. For instance in a cross-cultural study of over 5,000 immigrant youth in 13 countries, Berry, Phinney, Sam, and Vedder (2006) found that integration was preferred by 36% of the respondents, followed by 22% for separation, 19% for assimilation, and 22% marginalization. Which acculturation orientation is most adaptive on measures of psychological and social adjustment has also received much attention in the literature (Sam & Berry, 2016). In a recent meta-analysis covering 83 studies and 23,000 immigrant respondents, Nguyen and Benet-Martinez (2013) found that the integration orientation was related to better psychological and social adjustment than were assimilation or separation. These researchers proposed that using two cultures and languages may make bicultural persons better adjusted to situations involving two or more languages and cultures. Compared with assimilationists and separatists, the double linguistic and cultural social network of integrationists may help them cope better with psychological problems related to anxiety, loneliness, and social problems related to intercultural miscommunication and interpersonal conflicts. Nguyen and Benet-Martinez (2013) also proposed that the biculturalism–adjustment relationship may also be due to dominant majority group endorsement of integrationist policies toward minorities.

Different subgroups of linguistic minorities are expected to adopt different configurations of acculturation orientations depending on their ethnolinguistic origin, social class background, degree of ingroup identification, cultural autonomy (CAM), linguistic mobilization, degree of contact with the dominant majority, and state language policies supporting or repressing their minority language. The proportion of linguistic minorities from the same origin favoring each acculturation orientation may also change from one generation to the other depending on patterns of upward or downward mobility experienced by linguistic minorities during the lifespan and across generations. Acculturation orientations of linguistic minorities may also change in line with improvements or declines in minority group vitality across time. For instance, as the vitality of a national minority improves as a result of better intergenerational transmission of its language, coupled with stronger institutional support in favor of minority language schooling, the profile of acculturation orientations within this national minority may shift from a mainly assimilationist orientation to a predominantly integrationist orientation.

Minority Acculturation Orientation and Bilingual Language Use

The IAM model proposes that the language behavior of linguistic minorities and majorities are not fully determined by the language policies adopted by regional or national governments. For instance, linguistic minorities may adopt different strategies of language behaviors in different private and public settings depending on their acculturation orientations (Bourhis et al., 2012). Figure 2 provides the hypothetical example of two members of a same medium vitality linguistic minority who endorse different acculturation orientations within the same language majority country. We assume that both minority group speakers are bilingual: they can speak in their mother tongue (L1) and also use the language of the majority group as their second language (L2). Speaker 1 could endorse the assimilationist orientation, while Speaker 2 endorses the integrationist orientation. For this hypothetical case, assume that the state government adopted a robust assimilationist language policy with only the dominant language of the majority being used in public settings of the national, regional, and municipal governments, of the educational system, of health care, the judiciary, and of business/commercial institutions and as the language of work. Linguistic minority Speaker 1 endorsing the assimilation acculturation is ready to sacrifice the use of his heritage language (L1) for the sake of using the language of the dominant majority (L2). As expected, this Speaker 1 is likely to switch to the language of the dominant majority (L2) in all public domains of the state at the national, provincial, and city levels, and for education, health care, as well as in his work setting. This assimilationist Speaker 1 is also likely to use the majority language in most private settings including consumption of cultural products, leisure, sports, religious activities, and in associative activities. However, this Speaker 1 may use his own heritage language (L1) for communicating within his family and friendship network, while sometimes using the majority language (L2) in such private settings. By using mainly the language of the majority both at work and in most of his leisure hours, Speaker 1 is assimilating to the language of the majority, and this during most of his waking hours on a 24-hour-day cycle. Clearly Speaker 1 prefers to assimilate linguistically and culturally to the dominant language of the majority, thus possibly improving his individual social mobility while increasing his chances of being accepted as a rightful member the majority.

Acculturation and Intergroup Communication

Figure 2. Bilingual Minority Acculturation Orientations and Language Use in L1 & L2 in Each Setting. State Language Policies and Different Close & Distal Social Settings Experienced by Bilingual Minority Speaker S1 Endorsing the Assimilation Acculturation Orientation and Speaker S2 Endorsing the Integration Orientation. Bilingual Minority Speakers Choose to Use their Mother Tongue (L1) and/or the Majority Language (L2) within Each Social Setting as per their Respective Acculturation Orientation and within a 24 Hour Cycle.

Speaker 2, who adopted the integration orientation, values both his heritage language (L1) and the language of the majority (L2) reflecting his bilingual/bicultural dual identity. Given the government assimilationist policy of only offering public services in the majority language, our Speaker 2 integrationist has little option but to use the language of the dominant majority when communicating with majority speakers at the national, regional, and city government level in education and health care. However, our Speaker 2 integrationist may have actively found employment in a local or international firm needing the use of not only the majority language but also his heritage language (L1) in this bilingual work setting. Additionally, Speaker 2 may systematically use his heritage language (L1) in as many private settings as possible including for cultural consumption, leisure, sports, religious and associative activities, weekend school programs for his children, and for daily use in his family and with own group friends. Speaker 2 subjected to the same assimilationist language policies as Speaker 1, succeeds in using his heritage language during much of his waking hours at work and in his private leisure hours, thus nurturing an individual network of linguistic contacts which is more intense in his L1 language than in the language of the majority. The greater the numerical presence of Speaker 2 minorities endorsing the integrationist acculturation orientation resulting in sustained use of the L1 heritage language, the greater chances this minority has of maintaining its ethnolinguistic vitality, even within an assimilationist state environment.

This hypothetical case illustrates that language policies do not fully determine the language behavior of minority speakers in daily life. Minority language group acculturation orientations such as integrationism and separatism may be the strategies helping minorities to maintain their heritage language and culture despite pressures from majority group assimilationist language policies. However, it remains that the long-term application of assimilationist and exclusionist language policies by dominant majorities have often succeeded in eroding the intergenerational capacity of language minorities to maintain and develop their heritage language and culture (Canada, 2016; Fishman, 2001; Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000).

Acculturation Orientations and Intergroup Communication Outcomes

It is by combining the five acculturation orientations of linguistic minorities with the six language majority orientations that the interactive nature of the IAM framework becomes most evident, especially in terms of the dynamics of intergroup communication outcomes (Figure 1). The IAM model proposes that during intergroup contact the interaction of majority and minority group acculturation orientations can be concordant or discordant and can produce relational outcomes ranging from harmonious to problematic to conflictual (Bourhis et al., 1997). Intergroup communication outcomes are salient in multilingual code-switching, which involves the alternative use of two or more languages in the same conversation. Linguistic competence in the minority and majority language, desire to increase communicative accuracy, sociolinguistic norms and social identity needs have been identified as important factors accounting for code switching in conversations between minorities and majorities (Bourhis et al., 2012; Giles et al., 1977; Giles & Maass, 2016).

Much research using Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) focused on the dynamic nature of multilingual communication and identified three basic code switching strategies: language convergence, maintenance, and divergence (Dragojevic, Gasiorek, & Giles, 2014). Language convergence is an associative strategy whereby individuals adapt their communicative behavior to become more like their interlocutor, thus yielding harmonious communicative outcomes. Members of a linguistic minority endorsing the integration orientation may converge to the majority language of the host majority to optimize communicative effectiveness and upward mobility, while also symbolizing their efforts to integrate within the dominant language majority (Giles et al., 1977). Language maintenance is a dissociative strategy involving non-convergence to the communicative needs of one’s interlocutor. Assimilationist language majority speakers may use language maintenance to assert that it is linguistic minorities who must shoulder the effort to converge to the majority language, thus contributing to problematic communicative outcomes. Divergence is a stronger dissociative language strategy where separatist or segregationist individuals may refuse to speak in the language of their interlocutor as a way of asserting their linguistic identity and outgroup rejection—thus yielding conflictual communicative outcomes (Bourhis, Giles, Leyens, & Tajfel, 1979). As proposed in the IAM model, the most harmonious communicative outcomes are predicted when both high-vitality majority group speakers and linguistic minority speakers are concordant in sharing the integrationist or individualist acculturation orientations. It is under such circumstances that the model predicts positive relational outcomes including effective cross-cultural and bilingual communications involving mutual language convergence. Such harmonious relational outcomes also include mutually positive interethnic attitudes and stereotypes, low intergroup tension, low acculturative stress, and virtually no discrimination/linguicism between dominant majority and linguistic minority group members.

Problematic communication outcomes emerge when members of the high vitality majority and the linguistic minority experience some discordance in their acculturation orientations, with some agreement and some disagreement with regard to their preferred profile of acculturation orientations (Rohmann et al., 2006). Problematic communication outcomes may emerge when dominant majority speakers insist that minorities assimilate linguistically to mainstream society while minorities may prefer the integration strategy that includes maintenance of their heritage language while acquiring competence in the majority language. Such problematic communications may involve majority speakers using language maintenance with little patience or concern for linguistic minority speakers still learning the majority language or using the majority language with a “foreign” accent. Such problematic communications may foster mutually negative stereotypes while majority speakers blame linguistic minorities for not learning the majority language fast enough or well enough for assimilation in the majority culture. Such majority assimilation pressures may foster linguistic insecurity and acculturative stress among linguistic minority speakers who may also suffer exclusion (linguicism) from employment levels commensurate with their education and work experience.

Dominant majority speakers who endorse the segregationism or exclusionism orientations are likely to foster the most conflictual communication outcomes with minorities, regardless of the acculturation orientations endorsed by weaker vitality linguistic minorities. Dominant majority segregationists and exclusionists are likely to diverge linguistically from “devalued” linguistic minority speakers as a way of dissociating from them as unwelcomed immigrant or national minority speakers. In addition to miscommunicating with linguistic minorities, exclusionists and segregationists are likely to be prejudiced toward minorities and to discriminate (linguicism) against them in employment and housing while opposing bilingual institutional support for such minorities in schooling and local health care. Exclusionists are more likely to organize as right-wing political parties to disparage the language and culture of minorities seen as diluting or contaminating mainstream society. Under such circumstances, linguistic minorities who have low vitality are likely to be more vulnerable and suffer more acculturative stress and language assimilation compared to medium vitality linguistic minorities whose “strength in numbers” and institutional support can better shield them collectively against abuses from segregationist and exclusionist language majorities. Of linguistic minorities that are targeted by exclusionists, those with a separatist orientation and medium vitality are most likely to resist majority group intolerance. In de-facto multilingual countries, racialized linguistic and immigrant minorities may adopt the separatist acculturation orientation and congregate in their own-group urban or territorial enclaves as of way of minimizing their contact with antagonistic dominant majority members. As implied in Figure 1, the IAM proposes that conflictual relational outcomes may be attenuated by state language policies that are situated at the pluralistic and civic pole of the continuum. Conversely, conflictual relational outcomes may be accentuated by language policies that are situated at the assimilationist, and especially exclusionist, side of the ideological continuum.

Concluding Note

The Interactive Acculturation Model proposes that linguistic majorities and minorities are as likely to compete as to collaborate in their quest to gain the institutional support they need to ensure their control of the public and private institutions of multilingual states. Gaining ground on the institutional support front improves the social and economic fate of minority speakers while contributing to the intergenerational transmission of their minority language thus contributing to the future vitality of such minorities. The continuum of language policy ideologies proposed in the IAM shows that language policies adopted by national or regional governments can accentuate or attenuate rivalries between competing language communities. To the degree that language laws giving some protection to language minorities become consensual within the majority, such laws can stabilize the vitality position of vulnerable linguistic minorities who in “free market” environments would otherwise be faced with collective language attrition to the point of language death. By differentiating the acculturation orientations of minority and majority group speakers, the IAM may help identify the subgroups of community leaders most likely to promote compromises between competing language communities, thus reducing tensions between linguistic communities and promoting social cohesion. Clearly, the IAM adapted for linguistic minorities and majorities remains to be tested empirically and conceptually in different multilingual and multicultural settings.

Further Reading

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    Bourhis, R. Y. (2001). Acculturation, language maintenance and language loss. In J. Klatter-Falmer & P. Van Avermaet (Eds.), Theories on language maintenance and loss of minority languages: Towards a more integrated explanatory framework (pp. 5–37). New York: Waxmann Verlag.Find this resource:

      Bourhis, R. Y., & Landry, R. (2012). Group vitality, cultural autonomy and the wellness of language minorities. In R. Y. Bourhis, (Ed.), Decline and prospects of the English-speaking communities of Quebec. (pp. 23–69). Ottawa: Canadian Heritage. Retrieved from this resource:

        Bourhis, R. Y., Moise, L. C., Perreault, S., & Senecal, S. (1997). Towards an interactive acculturation model: A social psychological approach. International Journal of Psychology, 32, 369–386.Find this resource:

          Fishman, J. A. (Ed.) (2001). Why is it so hard to save a threatened language? In J. A. Fishman (Ed.), Can threatened languages be saved? (pp. 1–22). Bristol, U.K.: Multilingual Matters.Find this resource:

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                Giles, H., & Maass, A. (2016). (Eds.). Advances in intergroup communication. New York: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

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                      Sam, D., & Berry, J. W. (Eds.). (2016). The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (2d ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:


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