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.
Richard Y. Bourhis
Intergroup communication in Spain focuses mainly on the interactions between the Spanish state and the coexisting national minorities. Spain is a state divided into autonomous communities, three of which—Catalonia, Galicia, and Basque Country—are denominated historic communities, having their own languages that coexist co-officially with Castilian, the official language of Spain. Because national identities are not fixed, but mutable in the face of political, economic, and social circumstances, the dynamics established between Spain and these historic communities are a recurring theme of study and analysis. However, research conducted from the perspective of intergroup communication is very scarce. The mutability of national identities is explicitly stated in an alarming way in the current highly conflictive intergroup communication between the Spanish state and Catalonia. This autonomous community has progressed from a cultural claim in the 19th century to a pact-based ethnopolitical vindication from the 1980s until the beginning of the 21st century. However, the Spanish state, from its stance as a unique and essentialist nation, is facing a Catalonia that claims recognition as a nation and a strong self-government. These demands have led to a strong polarization between the parties, to such an extent that the conflictive escalation has led Catalonia to consider secession. Intergroup communication between Spain and the historic communities is strongly influenced by the historic circumstances of upheavals and defeats suffered because of the application of the power of the Spanish majority, willing to renounce to its richness of cultural and linguistic variability in exchange for the unity of a single Spain, and because of the ethnolinguistic vitalities of the historic minorities. Each historic community has a different ethnolinguistic vitality, as well as different feelings of injustice and legitimacy about its situation. Galicia has suffered a strong ethnolinguistic assimilation into the Spanish group of Castilian speakers, and in the Basque Country, a highly significant part of the population now feels as Basque as Spanish, while the demands for separatism are decreasing. On the other hand, Catalan-speaking communities—some ten million people—even with variations among them, have a high relative ethnolinguistic vitality and, driven by feelings of injustice, they act with strategies of competence and communicative divergence, to which the Spanish state is responding, with both strategies of silence and a strong normative enforcement. These differences in the balance of power between Spain and the historic communities have been one of the main factors that have motivated different levels in intergroup communication. These conflicts will require imaginative solutions that allow the national group to achieve their aspirations and to overcome the Catalonia-Spain confrontation, a struggle that began more than 300 years ago. Some solutions are being proposed today, for example, to achieve a European federalism in which Europe is structured in layers, governed by principles of subsidiarity.
Language attitudes are evaluative reactions to different language varieties. They reflect, at least in part, two sequential cognitive processes: social categorization and stereotyping. First, listeners use linguistic cues (e.g., accent) to infer speakers’ social group membership(s). Second, based on that categorization, they attribute to speakers stereotypic traits associated with those inferred group membership(s). Language attitudes are organized along two evaluative dimensions: status (e.g., intelligent, educated) and solidarity (e.g., friendly, pleasant). Past research has primarily focused on documenting attitudes toward standard and nonstandard language varieties. Standard varieties are those that adhere to codified norms defining correct usage in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, whereas nonstandard varieties are those that depart from such norms in some manner (e.g., pronunciation). Standard and nonstandard varieties elicit different evaluative reactions along the status and solidarity dimensions. Status attributions are based primarily on perceptions of socioeconomic status. Because standard varieties tend to be associated with dominant socioeconomic groups within a given society, standard speakers are typically attributed more status than nonstandard speakers. Solidarity attributions tend to be based on in-group loyalty. Language is an important symbol of social identity, and people tend to attribute more solidarity to members of their own linguistic community, especially when that community is characterized by high or increasing vitality (i.e., status, demographics, institutional support). As a result, nonstandard language varieties can sometimes possess covert prestige in the speech community in which they are the speech norms. Language attitudes are socialized early in life. At a very young age, children tend to prefer their own language variety. However, most (if not all) children gradually acquire the attitudes of the dominant group, showing a clear status preference for standard over nonstandard varieties around the first years of formal education and sometimes much earlier. Language attitudes can be socialized through various agents, including educators, peers, family, and the media. Because language attitudes are learned, they are inherently prone to change. Language attitudes may change in response to shifts in intergroup relations and government language policies, as well as more dynamically as a function of the social comparative context in which they are evoked. Once evoked, language attitudes can have myriad behavioral consequences, with negative attitudes typically promoting prejudice, discrimination, and problematic social interactions.
Intergroup communication concerns the verbal and nonverbal interaction between individuals from different groups. Since about the 1980s, the social identity perspective (including social identity, self-categorization, ethnolinguistic vitality, and communication accommodation theories) has provided much impetus to research on intergroup communication. One way to advance intergroup communication research, then, is to expand the social identity perspective. Evolutionary psychology, a research program firmly rooted in natural selection theory and its modern synthesis, can help achieve this goal. For example, a functional analysis of language acquisition suggests—and research confirms—that language (similar to sex and age but not race) is a dedicated dimension of social categorization. This is first of all because language is localized, with signal regularities (e.g., grammar, syntax) being meaningful only to in-group members. Second, there is a critical window of language acquisition that typically closes at late adolescence, and one can almost never reach native-level proficiency if the person tries to learn a language beyond that window. Thus, two people are very likely to have grown up in the same place if they speak the same language with similar high levels of proficiency. Conversely, the lack of proficiency in speaking a language suggests that one does not have the same childhood experience as others and is thus an out-group member. Because ancestral humans had recurrent exposure to people speaking different languages (or variants of the same language) even given their limited travel ability, language-based categorization appears to be an evolved part of human nature. Evolutionary theories can also help renovate research on ethnolinguistic vitality and (non)accommodation. For example, an analysis of host-parasite coevolution suggests that maintaining and using one’s own language can help reduce the risk of contracting foreign diseases in places with high parasite stress. This is because out-group members are more likely than in-group members to carry diseases that one’s physiological immune system cannot tackle. Intergroup differentiation is thus needed more in places with higher parasite stress, and language (as noted) reliably marks group membership. It thus benefits people living in parasite-laden environments to stick to their own language, which helps them remain close to in-group members and away from out-group members. Research also shows that increases in perceived parasitic threats cause people higher in pathogen disgust sensitivity to perceive speakers with foreign accents as being more dissimilar to self. This enhanced perceived dissimilarity may cause non-accommodation or divergence in intergroup communication, resulting in negative language attitudes and even intergroup conflicts. These and many other areas of research uniquely identified by evolutionary approaches to intergroup communication research await further empirical tests.