Immigrants' Adaptation in Canada: Assimilation, Acculturation, and Orthogonal Cultural Identification

By Sayegh, Liliane; Lasry, Jean-Claude | Canadian Psychology, January 1993 | Go to article overview
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Immigrants' Adaptation in Canada: Assimilation, Acculturation, and Orthogonal Cultural Identification

Sayegh, Liliane, Lasry, Jean-Claude, Canadian Psychology


This paper will review the predominant models developed by researchers to assess the psychological adaptation of immigrants in the host society. The use of the terms assimilation and acculturation, to reflect the process of change undergone by immigrants, will be discussed. Although these terms have been used interchangeably, the outcome of change is very different in each. The difference between assimilation and acculturation is reflected in the models of adaptation regrouped under linear and bidimensional models. A third model, called orthogonal cultural identification, is presented in light of the criticisms made of the first two types of models. The psychosocial changes undergone by immigrants who move from one country of residence to another, have been subsumed under the terms of assimilation or acculturation. Although these two terms refer to similar processes of change, within individuals, their outcome is quite different. Eisenstadt (1954) identified three stages in the migration process. The first consists of the needs or dispositions which motivate a person to migrate; the second stage is the physical transition itself, from the original society to the new one; the third stage refers to the absorption of the immigrant within the social and cultural framework of the new society. Researchers agree that psychosocial changes experienced by immigrants, in this third phase, include "the learning of new roles, the transformation of primary group values, and the extension of participation, beyond the primary group, in the main spheres of the social system" (Eisenstadt, 1954, p. 9). There is much disagreement, however, about whether successful adaptation is marked by loss of identification with the heritage culture (Eisenstadt, 1954) or whether adaptation can occur without any such loss (Spindler, 1978).

This paper will present two divergent theories of immigrants' adaptation implied by the terms assimilation and acculturation. The models which these theories have generated will be divided into two broad categories: 1) Linear models -- representing cultural change on a linear bipolar continuum, going from the heritage culture to the host culture, and 2) Bidimensional models -- in which two independent dimensions of cultural change are crossed at right angles to each other, resulting in four adaptation styles which immigrants can adopt.

Some of the early models of acculturation and assimilation will be presented, since many of these have served as guidelines for later research. The critical review of models will be followed by findings on the outcome of immigrants' adaptation, according to the two types of models. Our intent is to assess whether various Canadian ethnic groups tend to maintain their heritage culture or to replace it with the host culture. In light of the criticisms made of the models reviewed and of the findings summarized, a third model, orthogonal cultural identification, will be presented.


Assimilation is a term used as far back as 1677, in reference to conformity with a country in which one lives (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989). Simons (1900) defined assimilation at the turn of the century as: "that process of adjustment or accommodation which occurs between the members of two different races, if their contact is prolonged and if the necessary psychic conditions are present" (p. 791). Park and Burgess (In International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences [IESS], 1968) defined it as "a process of interpenetration and fusion in which persons or groups acquire the memories, sentiments, and attitudes of other persons or groups, and, by sharing their experience and history, are incorporated with them in a common cultural life" (p. 438).

Eisenstadt (1985) established a very clear interaction between immigrants and the host society, during the process of assimilation. Successful assimilation, according to Eisenstadt, occurs when immigrants have become full participants in the "institutions" of the host society and identify completely with that society.

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Immigrants' Adaptation in Canada: Assimilation, Acculturation, and Orthogonal Cultural Identification


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