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THE PEOPLE

 

The population of Great Britain is about 60 million people. The overall population density is 242 persons per sq km. A small percentage of Britons live in rural areas; 89 percent live in towns. The largest cities in Great Britain are London, Leeds and Glasgow. Most Britons (94 percent) are either English, Scottish, Irish, or Welsh. The remainder include Indians, West Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, Bangladeshis, Chinese, and Arabs. The country’s official language is English.

 

IDENTITY

THE DOMINANCE OF ENGLAND

How do British people identify themselves? Who do they feel they are? What are the loyalties and senses of identity most typically felt by British people.

There is, perhaps, an excuse for people who use the word ‘England’ when they mean ‘Britain’. It cannot be denied that the dominant culture of Britain today is specifically English. The system of politics that is used in all four nations today is of English origin, and English is the main language of all four nations. Many aspects of everyday life are organised according to English custom and practice. But the political unification of Britain was not achieved by mutual agreement. On the contrary. It happened because England was able to exert her economic and military power over the other three nations.

Today English domination can be detected in the way in which various aspects of British public life are described. For example, the supply of money in Britain is controlled by the Bank of England (there is no such thing as a ‘Bank of Britain’). The present queen of the country is universally known as ‘Elizabeth the Second’, even though Scotland and Northern Ireland have never had an ‘Elizabeth the First’! (Elizabeth I of England and Wales ruled from 1553 to I603.) The term ‘Anglo’ is also commonly used. (The Angles were a Germanic tribe who settled in England in the fifth century. The word ‘England’ is derived from their name.) For example, newspapers and the television news talk about ‘Anglo-American relations’ to refer to relations between the governments of Britain and the USA (and not just those between England and the USA).

 

NATIONAL LOYALTIES

When you are talking to people from Britain, it is safest to use ‘Britain’ when talking about where they live and ’British’ as the adjective to describe their nationality. This way you will be less likely to offend anyone. It is, of course, not wrong to talk about ‘people in England’ if that is what you mean - people who live within the geographical boundaries of England. After all, most British people live there. But it should always be remembered that England does not make up the whole of the UK.

There has been a long history of migration from Scotland, Wales and Ireland to England. As a result there are millions of people who live in England but who would never describe themselves as English. They may have lived in England all their lives, but as far as they are concerned they are Scottish or Welsh or Irish. These people support the country of their parents or grandparents rather than England in sporting contests.



 

ETHNIC IDENTITY

National (‘ethnic’) loyalties can be strong among the people in Britain whose ancestors were not English. For some people living in England who call themselves Scottish, Welsh or Irish, this loyalty is little more than a matter of emotional attachment. But for others, it goes a bit further and they may even join one of the sporting and social clubs for ‘exiles’ from these nations. These clubs promote national folk music, organise parties on special national days and foster a consciousness of doing things differently from the English. For people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the way that ethnic identity commonly expresses itself varies. People in Scotland have constant reminders of their distinctiveness. First, several important aspects of public life are organised separately, and differently, from the rest of Britain - notably, education, law and religion. Second, the Scottish way of speaking English is very distinctive. A modern form of the dialect known as Scots is spoken in everyday life by most of the working classes in the lowlands. It has many features which are different from other forms of English and cannot usually be understood by people who are not Scottish. Third, there are many symbols of Scottishness which are well-known throughout Britain.

However, the feeling of being Scottish is not that simple. This is partly because of the historical cultural split between highland and lowland Scotland. A genuinely Scottish Gaelic sense of cultural identity is, in modern times, felt only by a few tens of thousands of people in some of the western isles of Scotland and the adjoining mainland. These people speak Scottish Gaelic (which they call ‘Gallic’) as a first language.

The people of Wales do not have as many reminders of their Welshness in everyday life. The organisation of public life is identical to that in England. Nor are there as many well-known symbols of Welshness. In addition, a large minority of the people in Wales probably do not consider themselves to be especially Welsh at all. In the nineteenth century large numbers of Scottish, Irish and English people went to find work there, and today many English people still make their homes in Wales or have holiday houses there. As a result, a feeling of loyalty to Wales is often similar in nature to the fairly weak loyalties to particular geographical areas found throughout England - it is regional rather than nationalistic.

However, there is one single highly-important symbol of Welsh identity - the Welsh language. Everybody in Wales can speak English, but it is not everybody's first language. For about 20% of the population (that's more than half a million people), the mother-tongue is Welsh. For these people Welsh identity obviously means more than just living in the region known as Wales. Moreover, in comparison to the other small minority languages of Europe, Welsh shows signs of continued vitality. Thanks to successive campaigns, the language receives a lot of public support. All children in Wales learn it at school, there are many local newspapers in Welsh, there is a Welsh television channel and nearly all public notices and signs are written in both Welsh and English.

As for English identity, most people who describe themselves as English usually make no distinction in their minds between ‘English’ and ‘British’. There is plenty of evidence of this. For example, at international football or rugby matches, when the players stand to attention to hear their national anthems, the Scottish, Irish and Welsh have their own songs, while the English one is just 'God Save the Queen' - the same as the British national anthem.

 

THE ENGLISH

Almost every nation has a reputation of some kind. The French are supposed to be amorous, gay, fond of champagne; the Germans dull, formal, efficient, fond of military uniforms, and parades; the Americans boastful, energetic, gregarious and vulgar. The English are reputed to be cold, reserved, rather haughty people who do not yell in the street, make love in public or change their governments as often as they change their underclothes. They are steady, easy-going, and fond of sport.

The foreigner's view of the English is often based on the type of Englishman he has met travelling abroad. Since these are largely members of the upper and middle classes, it is obvious that their behaviour cannot be taken as general for the whole people. There are, however, certain kinds of behaviour, manners and customs which are peculiar to England.

The English are a nation of stay-at-homes. There is no place like home, they say, and when the man is not working he withdraws from the world to the company of his wife and children and busies himself with the affairs of the home. "The Englishman's home is his castle", is a saying known all over the world; and it is true that English people prefer small houses, built to house one family, perhaps with a small garden.

Foreigners often picture the Englishman dressed in tweeds, smoking a pipe, striding across the open countryside with his dog at his heels. This is a picture of the aristocratic Englishman during his holidays on his country estate since most of the open countryside is privately owned there isn't much left for the others to stride across. The average Englishman often lives and dies without ever having possessed a tweed suit.

Apart from the conservatism on a grand scale which the attitude to the monarchy typifies, England is full of small scale and local conservatisms, some of them of a highly individual or particular character. Regiments in the army, municipal corporations, schools and societies have their own private traditions which command strong loyalties. Such groups have customs of their own which they are very reluctant to change, and they like to think of their private customs as differentiating them, as groups, from the rest of the world.

Most English people have been slow to adopt rational reforms such as the metric system, which came into general use in 1975. They have suffered inconvenience from adhering to old ways, because they did not want the trouble of adapting themselves to new. All the same, several of the most notorious symbols of conservatism are being abandoned. The twenty-four hour clock was at last adopted for railway timetables in the 1960s - though not for most other timetables, such as radio programmes. In 1966 it was decided that decimal money would become regular form in 1971 - though even in this matter conservatism triumphed when the Government decided to keep the pound sterling as the basic unit

 

WHO ARE THE SCOTS?

The Scots are not English. Nor are the Scots British. No self-respecting Englishman calls himself a Briton, neither does any self-respecting Scot. The words Britain, Briton and British were uneasily disinterred after a long burial as a kind of palliative to Scottish feeling when our Parliament was merged with the English one at Westminster. But the attempt was not successful. The best things on either side of the Border remain obstinately English or Scottish. Are Shakespeare and Burns British poets? And is there anyone in the whole world who has ever asked for a British whisky and soda?

The two nations of the United Kingdom have each derived from mixed sources, racially and, as it were, historically. Each has developed strong national characteristics which separate them in custom, habit, religion, law and even in language.

The English are amongst the most amiable people in the world; they can also be very ruthless. They have a genius for compromise, but can enforce their idea of compromise on others with surprising efficiency.

The Scots are proverbially kindly, but at first glance are not so amiable. They abhor compromise, lean much upon logic and run much to extremes. They can be dour and grey, or highly coloured and extravagant in gesture and manner.

In general the nation of modern Scotland derives from three main racial sources. The Celts, the Scandinavians or Teutons and the mysterious and shadowy Picts. These Picts, historically speaking, were the first inhabitants of what is now called Scotland. They were a small tough people. They have left their strain in the blood and occasional marks in the land and language. They were conquered by the invading Celts from Ireland who, incidentally, were called Scots and from whom the name of the modern nation comes.

Two and three centuries later, however, the Celts retreated into the north-western hills and islands, their place in the east and south lowlands being taken by the Scandinavians, Teutons and Angles. Hence the celebrated division of the Scottish people into Highlanders and Lowlanders. It was a division which marked the distinction between people of different culture, temperament and language.

It is from the CeIts that there comes the more colourful, exciting and extravagant strain in the Scots. The Gaelic language and song; the tartan, the bagpipes, the Highland panache and, so on. In Scotland the sound denoted by the letter ‘R’ is generally a strong sound, and ‘R’ is often pronounced in words in which it would be silent in southern English.

In the Highlands and the Western Isles the ancient Scottish language, Gaelic, is still heard - in 1991 some 76,000 people spoke Gaelic. The Scots are said to be a serious, cautious, thrifty people, rather inventive and somewhat mystical. All the Celtic peoples of Britain (the Welsh, the Irish and the Scots) are frequently described as being more ‘fiery’ than the English. They are of a race that is quite distinct from the English.

 


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 1390


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