Language and Identity in the Definition of Britishness
From the time, when the World War II ended, Britishness has been one of the major focuses in the British political debates. The issue of Britishness has always prevailed in debating of specific issues such as devolution of Scotland and Wales and immigration (Wright page). Many politicians have come out publicly and made speeches about their worries about the threat to the Britishness survival. This is because Britishness has for a long time acted as a common thread in competing discussions among various parties and within the parties. Additionally, according to many politicians, if Britain will not promote a positive image in the real meaning of Britishness, then it might be at risk of having divided society (Ward page). According to historians, English people are those who live in England, while British can be said to be a general name that describes people who live in Scotland, England, Wales and North Ireland.
Many people relate Britishness with the British islands with distinctive topographical features such as Welsh valleys and Scottish highlands. Additionally, some people believe that British comprise of those people with the UK passports, regardless of their ethnic group or region. On the other hand, some individuals relate British with the white English people. English language was the language that united the British people.
According to historians, the identity of British got signed in 1707, and that three countries contributed to the development of British Identity; the nations included English, Welsh and Scottish. Those nations were seen as sub-identities that formed the new identity (Arnold page). Though many historians explain how the nations contributed to the formation of the new identity, they do not provide a clear explanation on what happened to the former identities after forming a new identity referred to as British.
Nations that formed the new identity focused on what they were not, instead of what they were before the formation of the new identity. Despite the differences between the nations that constituted the British nation, all of then focused on developing and accomplishing a united British one. According to some historians, the sense of common identity was achieved because of homogenization and integration of distinct cultures. Instead, Britishness got superimposed over collection of internal differences reaction to contact with other nation and in reaction to conflict with the other nation. According to many people from Scottish and Welsh identities, as well as people from minority ethnic groups, Britishness was connected with holding the nation’s passport and recognized formally as a British citizen (Caunce page).
As a matter of fact, many people across the world tend to believe that Britishness can only be associated to English, or it originates from England. This is not true because in reality British comprise also of Scotland, North Ireland and Wales. This is overlooked, and it also irritates each of these nations, because these nations get generalized. Some people from nations that form British united one claim that the idea of Britishness should be abandoned, because each nation has its own identity.
On the other hand, religious differentiations, which happened to be the main source of distinctiveness, were the main factors for Scotts, Welsh and English to create a common identity. Majority of Scotts and English happened to be Protestants, although less may be known about the Welsh, since some of them were Protestants while others were Catholics. On the other hand, the fact that English and Scotts were Protestants was extremely significant because they used that opportunity to create a new national identity, regardless of many differences that existed between them. As Protestants, the two communities stood against people from Catholic denomination such as French nation, which was the greatest threat to the British islands between 18th and 19th centuries (Darian-Smith page).
The fact that English and Scotts were from neighboring geographical region and isolated from the Europe Continent intensified their integration process. Additionally, the realistic approach from the Scotts happened to be another motivator in the evolution of British identity. This is because Scotts wanted to benefit from trade opportunities that the English nation enjoyed. These opportunities were available as a result of the effects of capitalism. In such way, Scotts realized the need to maintain their integrations with the English community.
According to many historians, English was the common language that united British people. For all British people, English language gets used as the official language when communicating to people of the same identity or people from different identities. As a result, people from ethnic minorities or new immigrants had to use English language when speaking to people from other identities. Historians argued that, if these people would not speak English, then they would not be recognized as British, since they thought that for a person to be British he/she must be able to communicate in English. Additionally, English language was also perceived as the manifestation of class and regional difference due to its many accents, something that got perceived as British (Julios page).
According to the many studies by historians, many English people perceive their identity as English or British, while Welsh and Scottish perceive their identities as Welsh and Scottish rather than British. On the other hand, some of them are always happy to combine the two identities, while the majority of them feel quite separated from the British because they perceived it as the English.
On the other hand, according to the majority of people from a minority groups, they maintain that the existing differences between English and British were extremely imperative, since the differences granted them with space to belong. They usually argue that a nation like Britain was multicultural, and Britishness was about uniting together the different peoples. On the other hand, still many people may not be aware that British nation comprises of the mixture of different peoples for a long time. This is because some people, especially from the minority groups, believe that British comprise of English people.
In the history, British were perceived as people that were able to demonstrate a sense of togetherness, as well as community spirit. Additionally, these people were seen as willing to help others during times of trouble, but according to some historians, this aspect was less associated with English, but more with Welsh, Scottish and other minority ethnic groups.
Currently, there have been worries that Britishness is declining. Many people are no longer aware of the real meaning of British. Many people claim that many attributes that people believed to be British are currently not observed in the daily life. According to the citizens of nations under British, especially in England and Scotland, they believe that the current decline in Britishness may be contributed to the availability of people from different ethnic groups, nations, culture, and religious beliefs and linguistics (Arnold page).
Many people believe that with the ongoing debates on identity and Britishness, there is a need to consider that Britishness has included distinct cultures to which it got exposed throughout the history. The ongoing discussion on the issue of Britishness and identity holds the misleading assumption that, actually, there is a norm of Britishness which is essentially for White people.
In many cases, political leaders have applied the question of British identity to appear as if they are dealing with the issues in politics that may be perceived as difficult. The current political concern with Britishness deals with the issue that a focus on national gets abstracted from other identities that matter to people such as region, city or town where these people live. On the other hand, Britishness may also distract from another question of identity.
According to historians, it is evident that people who held UK passports realized that they were British citizens, but in Wales and Scotland, both White and minority groups, prefer to be identified with their respective country’s identity rather than Britain. On the other hand, in England many White English citizens perceive themselves first as the English, and second as the British. On the other hand, ethnic minorities in England perceive themselves as British and they view English as referring to the White people. It has been identified that people who associate themselves with Britishness are mostly those who come from minority ethnic groups, especially those who reside in England.
In addition, many people from different identities associate Britishness with both political and historical achievements. On the other hand, some people from minority ethnic groups do not see achievement in a positive way as in the case of people from other identities. This is because these people found it extremely difficult to separate Britishness from its colonial history.
From the historians’ point of view, people from different identities do not perceive themselves as exclusively British. The main powerful source of identification for English, Scottish, Welsh as well as those people who come from the ethnic minorities is their nationality, and then Britishness comes after. Apart from nationality, others may consist of ethnicity, religion or race.