Diaspora culture are often more conservative

Zach made a comment below about conservatism and Diaspora cultures. There are two trends one has to highlight here. One the one hand Diaspora cultures often exhibit synthesis with host cultures and can be quite novel and innovative.

But there is another trend which is a cultural universal: Diaspora cultures often exhibit archaism and crystallize old-fashioned norms and practices. To give a concrete example foot-binding persisted the longest, down to the 1970s, in the Chinese communities of Borneo. The French of Quebec is peculiar in part because it preserves characteristics of older French dialects. The same is true of some Anglo-American English dialects.

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6 thoughts on “Diaspora culture are often more conservative”

  1. Noting is very good, data is important. one also needs to try to understand the dynamics, being straddled in between worlds, they have some openness , also as they will continuously be populated from people back home or have to be in relation with them, they will have to be conservative too.

    This also explains the elites of many of these societies too. In betweeners have peer pressure to deal with. There are studies that show quite a bit of elites infact make the numbers of jihadists, I would say this in part is the explanation.

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  2. Do we mean politically conservative or simply the culture [as in they keep their traditions alive, the dictionary term]?

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  3. Don’t think any of the three examples conclusively demonstrate your point.

    1. Chinese foot binding was discouraged by the Manchu ruling class in Qing China, then abolished by fiat in Republican China, and again banned (and subsequently persecuted) under Communist China. Not surprising that it survived longer in isolated overseas communities.

    2. Quebec French preserves some elements of 17th-century metropolitan French. But it also includes many deviations. For example, “éventuel” and its cognates in most Western European languages refer to “possible”. But a new meaning, “the ensuing outcome”, was invented in British English in the 1800s, spread to Canadian English, and then replaced the original meaning of “éventuel” in Quebec French. That meaning hasn’t infiltrated Standard French despite a comparatively tiny geographical distance.

    So I’m not sure Quebecois’ conservatism reflects a consolidated/prescriptivist dialect – rather than just a slower rate of evolution due to isolation and a low rate of urbanization. Take a simple model: Two copies of A, identical genotype, same mutation rate. Over time A becomes A’ and A”. After a sufficiently long period, A” would *always* seem to have more archaic features, by way of commonality with A, if you use A’ as the reference point.

    Additionally, if A” has lower mutation rate (e.g. from lower population density), that disparity would be more pronounced even it has little to do with collective intentions. Finally, if scholars try to backwards-construct A by inferring from A” (as some people do with Quebecois and 17th century French), that’d create a number of type 1 errors for an unaware observer and further exaggerate the archaic nature of the dialect.

    3. It’s true that American English dialects sound closer to 16-17th century English / EME in general – but that’s only because a distinctive non-rhotic shift occurred in Southern England after the 1750s, and because that turned into the prestige dialect in Britain eventually. I don’t see the logic of how the diaspora in the Americas should be considered responsible for a mutation occurring in British English. In fact, American English became generally non-rhotic in the 19th century, because of continuous immigration from Britain, *and then* American English reversed back into being rhotic in the 1950s due to the rising status of inland Northern/Midwest dialects, which forms the basis of what we currently call GenAm (this is the predominant view; a number of other distinctive phonological features of GenAm can be reliably traced to that region). In other words, most American English dialects had at least two shifts in rhoticity over a timespan in which the rhoticity of the prestige dialect in Britain was unchanged.

    4/5. Two other counter-examples I know for your hypothesis, as applied to dialectal drift:

    (A) Standard (Canton) Cantonese has 4 “entering” tones, Taishanese has 4, Min-Nan has 2, and Hakka has 2. Historically, migrants to Hong Kong came from the above four groups in roughly equal proportions. A specific dialect of Cantonese, Hong Kong Cantonese, is the only known dialect with 3 entering tones. The odd (as in, opposite of even) number of “entering” tones is an anomaly in Chinese historical linguistics, and can’t seem to be explained by anything except a partial compromise with other migrants’ language groups.

    (B) Most dialects of Cantonese, along with all other major Chinese varieties, has a velar nasal ⟨ŋ⟩ as a possible final. This is true even in the least phonologically complex language, Mandarin. However, the Hong Kong dialect of Cantonese (along with its offshoot in Vancouver) is unique for merging ⟨ŋ⟩ finals into ⟨n⟩ – in other words, g-dropping. This is bizarre, because the same dialect retains ⟨ŋ⟩ as an initial, so native speakers do recognize the velar nasal as a distinctive phoneme. The only explanation I can think of is that this reflects an influence from English; g-dropping has been common in casual conversation in most English dialects since the early 20th century, and the city was under British rule till 1997. For the name of “Hong Kong”, it’s particularly hard to *not* at least drop the first g. I imagine that as g-dropping becomes frequent enough in official English contexts, local speakers have somehow modified their L1 dialect to adapt to their L2 dialect, simply because the latter was perceived as more prestigious. This would be a particularly stark example of linguistic assimilation.

    All the linguistics aside – there’s also a fairly rigorous empirical literature on migrants’ culture from economists, and I don’t think it really supports your argument either. All the studies I’m familiar with – Nunn 2011, Guiso 2004, Ichino and Maggi 2000 – show varying degrees of convergence to the host culture – but not divergence.

    To be fair, there are a few intuitive historical examples that seems to show cultural divergence, such as the birth of ultra-orthodox Judaism in Eastern Europe. But even in these cases, it’d be hard to tell if we’re observing a real phenomenon or if we’re misestimating *average* behavior by only noticing the more reactionary elements – who are more vocal and more cohesive, and can engage in collective action more easily – compared to what was, in fact, general assimilation from the diaspora.

    Here’s an anecdotal example of how interesting assimilation can be: I’ve had the chance to interact with a large group of first-generation or second-generation Asian-American Christians, coming from a various number of regions in the United States. Excluding pan-ethnic (non-denominational) churches, I’ve noticed the pattern that Asian Protestants from Chicago were usually Lutheran, those from the Rust Belt were usually Methodist, and those from the South tend to be Southern Baptist. There also seems to be a larger number of Asian Catholics in the Northeast (excluding Filipinos from this statistic). The general narrative seems to be that while, say, Irish-Americans with Catholic ancestry are very reluctant to adopt a Protestant denomination even if they happen to be in Minnesota, Asian-Americans are often happy to switch to the local majority denomination wherever they go.

    This is quite intuitive, because a non-Christian with no preference will tend to convert to the largest local denomination for social capital alone. But it’s also interesting to ask why it’s so hard for a relatively minor change in denomination to happen for many European-American immigrants. I think this points to a strategic preference for *moderate* assimilation. European-Americans use their denomination as a way to maintain a distinctive identity (from other large European-American groups), along with the associated in-group benefits. Whereas East Asians are distinct enough in their culture that they perceive conversion as a safe compromise: They get the benefits of becoming an in-group with individuals of the predominant religion, *and* they get the benefits of being an in-group with other East Asians regardless of what faith they profess. Marriage data seems to support this explanation – Asian-Americans predominantly marry other Asian-Americans, but when they don’t, they at least marry someone from the same religious denomination.

    I think of it as a “golden interval” or “golden lens” (for 2-dimensional problems) of assimilation. (“golden” in the sense of reciprocity, as in golden rule – they can enjoy reciprocal relations from two distinct groups)

    I suspect that the history of Ashkenazi Jews contained a similar logic: they were able to maintain a distinctive in-group (by their religion and their matrilineality) while they also adopted local languages and customs to avoid the risk of being perceived as an outgroup. For the most part, that combination allowed Ashkenazi Jews to thrive as a diaspora in Germany and Eastern Europe over the millennium. The worst calamities seem to have occurred only after the rise of ethnic nationalism – and while most of the blame probably goes to the nationalism of their neighbors, I can’t help but wonder if the Haskalah period- with the revival of Hebrew, and the beginnings of political Zionism – moved them out of the in-group criteria of other local ethnic groups. The surge of anti-Semitism was so consistent and rapid that I *don’t* think it can be explained by local European ethnic nationalism alone. Certainly, most European nations had little to lose from letting their Zionist residents leave to establish a homeland in Palestine. It seems like the rise in anti-Semitism can *only* be explained sociologically, as a wave of spontaneous suspicion and hatred against a former in-group that suddenly developed a separate identity and separate political aim from their neighbors.

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    1. European antisemitism has a long history , as old as Western Christianity itself . Always it was one of degree only, never disappearing. Even Martin Luther , a culture hero among Germans , made incendiary statements against Jews. The German defeat in the 1st world war , and subsequent occupations by foreign in different parts of Germany, made the Germans extremely anxious about whether their nation will survive. Immediately, the politics of scapegoat-ism took over , and who can be better scapegoats than the usual suspects Jews. Ethnic based nationalism is unable to digest a different ethnic group in their midst and a drive for a ‘Pure Country’ usually results in ethnic cleansing or ethnocide .

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    2. One would think that the cause of the fronting of /ŋ/ -> [n] in the coda would be the same as that for the fronting of /k/ -> [t] in the coda, rather than some exotic influence. This is a process that has happened in other languages as well. E.g. Finnish only allows coronal stops word-finally, resulting in irregularities in morphology like nominative /sydän/ genitive /sydämmen/ (‘heart’) and nominative /mies/ genitive /miehen/ (‘man’).

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