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Лингво страноведенье / Q- 27 insular position

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Question 27. How has insular position of the country influenced the national character of the population? Britishness and national identity.

Immigrants have historically been seen by some people as a threat to British moral, social and cultural values, whose presence would radically change the society. Immigrants have obviously changed the composition of the British society to some degree and contributed to changing attitudes. But the British Isles have always been culturally diverse. There are many differences between the four nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, as well as diverse ways of life within each country’s boundaries. Such distinctive nationalities and the presence of immigrant communities raise questions about the meaning of contemporary “Britishness”

“Britishness” since the 1707 political union has been largely identified with the stability and distinctiveness of centralized stat institutions, as well as focusing on national myths. But the history of the British Isles before the eighteenth century is not about a single British identity or political entity. It is about the four different nations and their peoples, who have often been hostile towards one another.

Important cultural and national identities have been retained by the peoples who comprise the present United Kingdom population. Political terms such as “British” and “Britain” can therefore seem very artificial to many of them. The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish are largely Celtic peoples, while the English are mainly Anglo-Saxon in origin. Critics consequently suggest that many of contemporary “British” no longer know who they are as Britons. It is argued that there needs to be a radical rethinking of what it means to be British in the context of a multinational, multiracial state and a changing Europe.

But there has obviously been some racial and cultural intermixture over the centuries, which has accompanied adaptation by immigrant groups and an internal migration between the four nations. Social, political and institutional standardization, and a British awareness, have been established.

English nationalism is arguably, therefore, the most potent of the four nationalisms, and the English have no real problems with the dual nation role, although most would no doubt respond primary to their Englishness. The Scots, Irish and Welsh have always been more aware of the duality between their nationalism and Britishness; resent the English dominance and influence; see themselves as very different to the English; and regard their nationalist feelings as crucial. Their sense of identity is conditioned by the tension between their own distinctive histories and centralized government from London.

National identifications have until recently been largely cultural, and the British political union was generally accepted in the four nations, except four some people in the minority Catholic population of Northern Ireland. However, political nationalism increased in the 1960s and 1970s in Scotland and Wales. Today it seems that calls for independence from England in these two nations have died down. But there are still demands for greater powers of self-government at local and regional levels within the United Kingdom (devolution).

Demands for decentralized autonomy within England reflect regional differences there. Since the English themselves are a relatively mixed people, their customs, accents and behavior vary considerably, and local identification is still strong. The northern English have often regarded themselves as superior to the southern English, and vice versa. English country, regional and local community loyalties are still maintained, and may be demonstrated in sports, politics, competitions, cultural activities, or a specific way of life.

In Wales, there are also cultural and political differences between the industrial south and the rest of the mainly rural country; between Welsh-speaking Wales in the west and English-influenced Wales in the east and south –west.

Yet Welsh people are generally very conscious of their differences from the English. Their national and cultural identity is grounded in their history, literature, the Welsh language (actively spoken by 19 per cent of the population), sport (such as rugby football), and festivals such as National Eisteddfod (with its Welsh poetry competitions, dancing and music). It is also echoed in close-knit industrial and agricultural communities, and in a tradition of social, political and religious dissent from English norms. Today, many Welsh people feel that they are struggling for their national identity against political power in London, and the erosion of their culture and language by English institutions.

Similarly, the Scottish people generally unite in deference of their national identity and distinctiveness because of historical reaction to the English. Scots are conscious of their traditions, which are reflected in cultural festivals and in different legal, religious and educational systems to those of English. There is resentment against the centralization of political power in London and the goal of independence is held by some 30 per cent of the people.

But Scots are divided by two languages (Gaelic and Scots, the former being spoken by 1.5 per cent of the Scottish population, or 70,000 people), different religions, prejudices and regionalisms. Cultural differences separate Lowlanders and Highlanders, and deep rivalries exist between the two major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In Northern Ireland, the social, cultural, political and economic differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants have long been evident, and today are often reflect in geographical ghettos. Sizeable groups in both communities feel frustration with the English and hostility towards the British government in London. The Protestant Unionists, or Loyalists, do not regard themselves as English, although they wish to continue the union with Britain. Many Catholic Nationalists feel Irish and would prefer to be united with the Republic of Ireland. On both sides there is a general interest in local culture, music and the preservation of the Irish language.

These features suggest that the contemporary British are a very diverse people, particularly when original settlement has been added to by centuries of later immigration. It is consequently as difficult, if not impossible, to find a typical English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish person who conforms to all or even some of the assumed national stereotypes as it is to find a typical Briton.

Sometimes, however, the four nations do employ national stereotypes. The English might like to see themselves as calm, reasonable, patient and commonsensical people, who should be distinguished from the excitable, romantic and impulsive Celts. The Celts, on the other hand, may consider the English to be arrogant, patronizing and cold, and themselves as having all the virtues. The English, and sometimes the British as a whole, are often thought of as restrained, reserved, unemotional, private and independent individuals, with a respect for the amateur and the eccentric. Underlying all, there is supposed to be a dry sense of humour which specialized in understatement, irony, self-deprecation and an enjoyment in using the language in very flexible ways. Such qualities maybe offset by a certain aggressiveness, stubbornness and lack of cooperation. The British appear to have a relaxed attitude towards work and economic production, and have often been characterized as tolerant and somewhat lazy, with a happy-go-luck attitude to life. These stereotypes may have some limited value, but cannot be taken to represent the whole truth about the four nations, Britain, or individuals.

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