An ethnic group (word from the Greek ethnos , “people” or “nation”) or ethnic group is called a social group whose members identify with each other on the basis of a common origin and certain shared traits, such as language , religion and the culture . Frequently, the term ethnicity is used to refer to the distinctive characteristics through which an ethnic group is recognized.
According to the British sociologist and founder of the field of ethnosymbolism studies, Anthony D. Smith (1939-2016), ethnic groups should be understood as “human populations that share myths about ancestry, stories, cultures, which are associated with a specific territory and have a feeling of solidarity ”. Those who are part of the same ethnic group feel linked to each other by historical and cultural ties , like members of the same family, even if they do not know each other personally.
Currently, there are ethnic groups in all parts of the world. Some have lived in the same territory since ancient times ; others, on the other hand, have spread to various regions. In general, larger ethnic groups tend to be subdivided into subgroups or tribes, which may, over time, become distinct ethnic groups. Conversely, previously separate ethnic groups may merge and form a single ethnic group.
Both a person and a group can pass from one ethnic group to another , through processes of acculturation, assimilation and religious conversion. It may also be the case that two or more ethnic groups influence each other through processes of miscegenation or religious syncretism.
Characteristics of an ethnic group
Ethnic groups are human groups, but not all human groups are ethnic groups, so it is often difficult to determine what an ethnic group is. In this regard, some characteristics that are taken into account are the following:
- A certain sense of origin, expressed in a founding myth and a common historical memory.
- A shared cultural baggage, expressed in traditions , beliefs and values .
- A language or dialect of their own, although many ethnic groups are multilingual and, at the same time, different ethnic groups may share the same language.
- A more or less remote relationship between members, which may manifest itself in some degree of common genetic ancestry . However, it must be kept in mind that many ethnicities have a mixed genetic ancestry.
- Additionally, for the identification of an ethnic group, the subjective experience of its members is important. In this sense, the belief of belonging to a culturally distinctive group, different from other groups, is an aspect that must be taken into account, together with the willingness of the members to display the characteristics of the group (ways of dressing, eating habits, etc.). , religious rites, etc.).
Types of ethnicity
According to the characteristic or aspect that is considered to define belonging to an ethnic group, these can be grouped as follows:
- Ethnolinguistic groups . They are centered on the shared language or dialect. For example: the Basques.
- Ethnonational groups . They are focused on a shared system of government or a sense of national identity. For example: the Poles.
- Ethnoracial groups . They are focused on physical appearance, based on phenotypic traits. For example: African Americans.
- Ethnoregional groups . They are focused on the sense of local belonging, derived from geographic isolation. For example: the inhabitants of the Isle of Man, in Great Britain.
- Ethnoreligious groups . They emphasize a religion or a series of religious practices. For example: the Mennonites.
- Ethnocultural groups . They are centered on a common culture or tradition. For example: the Magyars.
Membership in one of these groups often overlaps with membership in another group or groups. For example: the Basques are an ethnolinguistic, ethnoregional and ethnocultural group at the same time.
Ethnic groups according to their language
Ethnic groups or ethnic groups can also be classified according to their language (although there are multilingual ethnic groups and others that share the same language). Based on this, a series of large groups is recognized, corresponding to linguistic families that include one or more ethnic groups.
- Indo-Europeans . it includes the peoples who speak Albanian, Armenian, Greek, and the Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Indic, Iranian, Romance, and Slavic languages.
- Afroasiatics : includes the peoples who speak Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, Semitic, Khoisan, Niger-Congo, and Nilo-Saharan languages.
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- Altaics : includes the Korean and Japanese-speaking peoples and the Mongolian, Tungus, and Turkic languages.
- Sino-Tibetans : includes the speakers of the Chinese and Tibeto-Burma languages.
Difference Between Ethnicity and Race
Race and ethnicity are two related concepts: both refer to human groups whose members are linked by descent . However, these are very different notions.
- Breed is defined as a group that shares certain distinctive physical traits. It is linked to physical characteristics, such as skin color, eye shape, or hair texture.
- An ethnic group is a group of people with a common origin and who share a cultural background, a way of life, beliefs or a language.
Just as the concept of ethnicity is linked to cultural identification, that of race is usually associated with biology. However, both are social constructs , used to classify apparently distinct groups. Neither race nor ethnicity can be detected in the genome.
Variations seen in humans are not due to different genes , but rather to the expression of some genes. But even these variations are biologically insignificant: more than 99% of human genetic material is common to all members of the species , and the variations occur more between individuals than between ethnic groups.
The term race is not free of the racist and discriminatory considerations that gave rise to it, in a context in which the Western colonial powers elaborated biologist-like discourses to, in some way, justify the subjugation of the peoples of the colonies .
Examples of ethnicities
There are numerous ethnic groups on the planet. By way of example, the following can be mentioned:
- Kurdish people . Of Indo-Iranian origin, it lives in the mountainous region of Kurdistan in Western Asia, currently divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
- The Persian people . Composed of the ancestral inhabitants of the Iranian plateau , they are speakers of the Farsi or Persian language. Inheritors of the old Persian Empire, they converted almost entirely to Islam , after the Muslim conquest of the seventh century.
- Quechua peoples . Made up of a group of South American aboriginal peoples, they originate from the Andes Mountains . Its name derives from the Quechua or Quichua language, typical of the Inca Empire .
- The Armenian people . Originally from the Armenian plateau in Anatolia, in Asia Minor, his language is Armenian, coming from ancient Persian. Many of its members are scattered throughout the world. The largest communities are in Russia, the United States, Iran and Lebanon.
- The Magyar people . Its members, known colloquially as Hungarians , are the current settlers of Hungary, in Eastern Europe. Its origins are debated. The most accepted explanation supports a Uralic origin, that is, from the ancestral populations of the Ural Mountains (in the IV millennium BC).
- Berber peoples . They comprise a group of autochthonous ethnic groups from North Africa , from the region known today as Tamazgha. Currently, they inhabit a large territory, which extends from the Canary Islands to the Siwa oasis in Egypt. They speak a set of their own languages ( Tamazight ), derived from Afroasiatic languages.