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The Process of Assimilation

The process of assimilation that happens in linguistics is really not all that different from the assimilation that occurs to a back-home culture in a new society. If your family came to America from, say, Lithuania, two generations ago, chances are that you and your siblings have become much more Americanized than your grandparents and even your parents were. This also means that you have become less Lithuanian, because the American culture has more influence on you than your heritage culture: you probably don't speak Lithuanian at home (although your parents might), and you probably are not up on Lithuanian culture, cuisine, music and literature, as your grandparents certainly were. You have become assimilated by, or "likened to" American culture.

The process is similar when it happens in language...in any language. Let's take English as an example. Many English words are created by linking a prefix with a root, thereby creating a new word. These prefixes usually started out as Latin prepositions. The assimilation rule states that when the rules of language reject a certain combination of consonants formed from the joining of a prefix and root, the root always wins out (think of the root as being the new, stronger culture that sucks up other cultures). The last letter of the prefix is dropped, and the first letter of the root is doubled. This occurs all the time in English words derived from Latin and knowing this rule will help you to puzzle out the meaning of unfamiliar words, if you can identify either the root or the original prefix. Say some of the words below aloud and you will hear why consonant blends such as nl and nr cannot stand: 

con + labor = conlabor >>> collaborate ("to work with")
con + respond = conrespond >>> correspondance ("answering in accordance with," "agreeing")

in + leg (from lex, legis, "law") = inleg >>> illegal ("not according to law")

in + respons = inrespons >>> irresponsible ("not answering to")

curiously, even the word assimilation itself is a product of linguistic assimilation:

ad + simil (from similis, "alike") = adsimil >>> assimilate ("toward similarity")

copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

date this page was edited last: 06/29/2005
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