Cultural Anthropology

Culture Loss Explained



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Culture loss is defined as a loss of cultural traits. An example depicting the fluidity of cultural traits over time is the change seen with word definitions. Times where culture loss is most evident are during periods of acculturation and transculturation. Acculturation is when cultural trait adoptions are made, while transculturation is when a new culture enters and adapts to mainstream culture. It’s important to understand culture loss as it happens and to recognize its fluidity over time. 

Culture develops and fluctuates within families and with people over time. Many times indigenous people, such as the Native Americans, lose their culture because of the dominance of the incoming new culture. At times, native-origin acculturation takes place, where the native tradition is shared and culturally adopted by another group. One such example is when the Inuit assisted Canada in the Artic. In addition, native-origin acculturation is when a child inherits cultural tradition from a caregiver. This is why culture loss is always occurring at different rates. Families are fluid and changing at different paces.

Transculturation is foreign-origin culture. Often times it is seen with immigrants who adopt new mainstream cultural traditions. Using language as the prime means of showing cultural flux; transculturation is apparent when travelers pick up words and expand their vocabulary. Transculturation often occurs when cultural imperialism is taking place. Cultural imperialism is when a culture imposes its view on another. However, it takes place when acculturation occurs because of the imposition of traditions.  There is some degree of overlap in understanding when cultural losses occur, resulting in acculturation and transculturation because traditions and values are ever changing.

Cultural appropriation is the process by which cultural loss occurs. It is a cultural groups’ adoption of another groups’ traditions or cultural elements. It is where some cultural loss takes place; nonetheless, another tradition is often input, creating a new cultural identity. Sometimes it is more of an exchange. Often, cultural appropriations are seen through a negative lens. Ethnocentrism is the cause, as it does not always allow for simple assimilation of dissimilar cultural traits. It is most obvious when new group of immigrants comes to the United States. In a short period there have been Africans made into slaves, Italian, Irish, and many other European cultures subject to ridicule as well as during wartime when the Japanese were collected up and put into camps. Since 9/11, middle-eastern immigrants are hurriedly assimilating because terrorist groups added tension based upon cultural confusion. Cultural loss is almost a right of cultural passage because there is an inevitability of new cultures clashing with existing cultures.

Ethno-convergence is the goal and a nemesis to ethnocentrism. The reason for this is that it is the coming together of each unique culture to create a new cultural identity or nationality. To witness the chaos, look at the United States' short historical record. As North American culture continues, being less than 250 years old and experiencing high points of immigration within that time, much American culture has converged between the many groups already initiated into the mix.  Resulting, Americans discuss and share their individual cultural values in public schools. This is necessary to assist in ethno-conversion and in decreasing any negative stereotypes based upon ethnocentric fears of culture loss.

Ethnocentrisms manifest in different forms and can quickly become very dangerous with fear of culture loss. Often strong religious beliefs and customs are deeply ingrained in people. Once their faith and belief system is questioned, people can become defensive. When strong values are challenged, people more naturally repel opposing views. Quick to label the opposing view as foreign, often performed customs are too different to be easily accepted. At some point a level of acceptance or ethno-convergence must come to fruition. This is so that an ethnic identity is characteristic of the traits and customs of the dominant culture.

When a group is composed of various dominant cultures, the resulting culture loss occurs as a new cultural identity is being formed. This does not happen overnight. Just as cultural loss takes place over time, traits are fluidly passed on from one generation to the next. Currently, one cultural trend in the United States is the influx of Spanish labeling on most forms, packages, etc. Some native born Americans who speak only English sometimes fear the assimilation of a second language. It is a senseless fear, but a natural human fear of change or the unknown, in this case a second language. They fear their culture is threatened. Truth being, their culture is being ethnically converged, a process subject to improvement as humans seek to improve.

While it is inevitable that some day American English and current influx of Spanish language will peacefully co-exist together, the languages are finding a balance within American society. It’s possible they will someday combine to become another language. No language has persisted as a dominant language in any culture without experiencing change. It is impossible to prevent cultural loss as cultures are certain to change along with the families and people comprise them. Resisting is futile, there is much to be learned as globally our cultures are take on a planetary culture. Embrace the change; assimilate and see how great cultural loss can be as the global community ethno-converges into a culture of its own. 

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