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National and Regional Identities in the UK - Description
Below is a brief description of some of the things that make the regional cultures of Britain so unique. The focus of this description is more concerned with what is unique to each culture than what they have in common. (Apologies to those regions currently left out – we hope to add other regions in the near future. The aim of this piece, though, is not to map Britain geographically but to describe some of the more prominent cultural identities within Britain.)
Yorkshire in the North of England is actually made up of four areas: North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Humberside (The East Riding). Each area has its own accent, but generally a Yorkshire accent is produced by way of pronounced articulation (the mouth has to work quite hard to produce the extended sounds). The last term you would ever use to describe a Yorkshire accent is ‘clipped’. Yorkshire accents might better be described as rolling or broad. The accent uses a lot of assonance (wide/flat vowels). For example, /bæΘ/ as opposed to the southern /ba:Θ/ and /græs/ as opposed to /gra:s/.
Yorkshire also has its own dialect. It has unique terms such as ‘ginnel’, meaning a narrow passageway, ‘tusky’, meaning rhubarb, and ‘laikin’, meaning playing, to name but a few. There is a lot of elision in the Yorkshire dialect: typically, ‘the pub’ becomes ‘t’pub’. Often, articles are dropped altogether (albeit that they may be replaced by glottal stops): ‘Put book on table!’ In this respect, Yorkshire is like Polish and some other European languages. In South Yorkshire, the terms ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and ‘thy’ are still sometimes used for ‘you’ and ‘your’.
Yorkshire character traits might be identified, although it is always dangerous to generalise. Adjectives often used when describing a Yorkshire stereotype are bluff, straight-talking, hospitable and careful with money. Interestingly, many British banks use a Yorkshire accent on their recorded messages, since such an accent has associations with sincerity, honesty and openness.
When it comes to its own traditional dishes, Yorkshire offers Yorkshire Pudding, tripe, mushy peas, black pudding (also popular in Lancashire) and Pontefract cake. Sport is a popular pastime, particularly sports such as cricket (up until recently, only someone with at least one parent from Yorkshire was permitted to play for the county cricket team), rugby league and racing pigeons. Major industries include textile manufacture and the coal industry (though the latter has suffered seriously since the 1980s when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher began to close down mines). In terms of the local history, major landmarks that have helped form modern Yorkshire include the Roman settlement of the area, the Viking settlement of the area (the word ‘laikin’ actually comes from Norse), the Industrial Revolution and the recent decline of the coal industry.
London and the Cockney culture
One of the oldest, unique cultures with strong traditions to be found in London is the Cockney culture. Traditionally, a Cockney is a person born within the sound of Bow Bells (the bells of the St. Mary le Bow church in the City of London). More than that, a Cockney has a particular identity within popular culture: an intelligent, though not highly-educated, roguish, garrulous, wise-cracking, irreverent, streetwise, working class person.
Cockney Rhyming Slang allows the Cockney dialect a vast, unique vocabulary. ‘I went up the stairs’ becomes ‘I went up the apples and pears.’ ‘Apples and pears’ rhymes with, and has been substituted for, the word ‘stairs’. Usually, the rhyming phrase is shortened, so the most natural Cockney sentence would be ‘I went up the apples’. Other examples are ‘brown bread’ for ‘dead’, ‘pig’s ear’ for ‘beer’, ‘dog and bone’ for ‘phone’, ‘Adam and Eve’ for ‘believe’ and ‘pen and ink’ for ‘stink’. And the language is still growing. ‘She had long, blonde Tony.’ Tony – Tony Blair – hair!
The Cockney accent involves very little lip movement, a sneering nasality, the pronunciation of the letter ‘t’ as ‘d’ (/ðƏ/ becomes /dƏ/), the pronunciation of the letter ‘l’ as ‘w’ (/Ɔ:l/ becomes /Ɔ:w/) and the elision of the letter ‘h’ (/hiz/ becomes /iz/). There are also an amazing number of glottal stops and swallowed syllables in the dialect. The word Tottenham is pronounced /tɒtnƏm/.
The slang is of course amusing, but it also acts as a sort of code that excludes outsiders. Historically, the Cockney has often been close to being on the wrong side of the law, and one can imagine the advantage to be gained by being able to talk in a language that no normal police informer would be able to understand. And a lookout could alert his friends to the approach of a police officer without the officer being aware that any warning has been given and the likely evidence has probably been cleared away: ‘Look out, there’s a bottle coming!’ Bottle – bottle and stopper – copper! A lot of the language of Australian English has actually developed from the Cockney spoken by some of the original convicts sent to Australia.
One of the best known cultural identities from the north-east of England is that of the Geordie. A Geordie tends to come from Newcastle (though some residents of Newcastle resent the term while some from further afield in the North-East are happy to be described by the term) and speaks his or her own dialect, known as Geordie English. It is said that Geordie is the English dialect closest to the original form of Anglo-Saxon once spoken throughout England. The reasons for this fact are largely historical; yet the history is enlightening when trying to understand the nature of Geordie cultural identity.
When the Romans left Britain at the end of the fourth century AD, they left the native, Welsh-speaking Britons of the Hadrian’s Wall area vulnerable to Pictish raids from the north. In search of protection, the early Tynesiders turned to foreign mercenaries – the Angles and Saxons – whom they paid in land. Thus, the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the area began.
The area quickly became the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia and ultimately became the larger kingdom of Northumbria. It was this cultural centre that produced England’s first historian, the Venerable Bede (673-735AD), who documented England’s history in The History of the English Church and People (731AD).
The area was also a religious centre. Holy Island, often known as Lindisfarne, just off the Northumbrian coast, was the site of a monastery founded by St Aidan in 635AD on land granted by Oswald, King and saint of Northumbria. The year 793AD saw Viking raids along the coasts of Britain for the first time, during which time the monastery was damaged. In 875AD, the monks were forced to flee the island with the body of their saint, Cuthbert. The monks finally settled with their holy relics in Durham in 995AD.
The Geordie accent is has a sing-song quality, perhaps because of the early Welsh influence or perhaps because of the influence of Scandinavian tongues. Whichever, it is true to say that a remarkable number of words of Scandinavian origin remain in the Geordie dialect. In addition, a large number of pan-Gaelic terms survive. For example, the term ‘wor’ is used for ‘our’. Other Geordie expressions include ‘whey aye’ (meaning ‘of course’), ‘tab’ (‘cigarette’), ‘divvin worry aboot thon’ (‘don’t worry about that’), ‘howway’ (‘come on’), ‘is’ (‘me’), ‘gi’is’ (‘give me’), ‘gadgie’ (‘old man’) and gallowa’ (‘horse’), to name but a few.
Given their history, it is no surprise that Geordies are fiercely proud of their heritage, to the extent that they may be misconstrued as aggressive. Geordies are generally happy-go-lucky, humorous, hard-drinking friendly and generous.
The local cuisine features many types of broth, barley broth being the most common. Pies are another common feature and seem to be made from all sorts of game. Mutton pies are very traditional. The most famous dish of the region is known as Singin’ Hinnies, but simnel cake is known outside of the region as well. Drinks include Lindisfarne Mead and the internationally famous beer Newcastle Brown.
When it comes to sport, football is undoubtedly the dominant sport of the region. Geordies follow their football with a rare passion. The teams of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesborough all feature in the English Premier League and have encountered European success too.
The traditional industries of the region are mining, steal production and ship-building, all of which have been badly for many a long year. The North-East is known for various periods of mass unemployment during the last century. But the North-East is going through something of a renaissance now as it moves towards into areas such as design, IT, education and youth culture. It has one of the fastest growing economies in Britain.
Internationally-famous Geordies include Sting, Brian Ferry and Paul Gascoigne (Gazza).
Liverpool and the Scouse culture
A Scouser is someone from the Liverpool area. Scouse is the name given to the accent and language of Scousers. The intonation of the dialect is very sing-song and the pitch is high compared to most regional accents in England. Consonants are often dropped at the ends of words, and the letter ‘t’ is often pronounced as /d/.
In terms of recent history, the 1980s saw economic depression in Liverpool while the south-east of England enjoyed an economic boom under the Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Liverpool was militantly left in its local politics at the time. Of course, Liverpool is a port and the shipping industry has traditionally been the main employer in the area. However, shipping has been in decline globally since WWI.
There have been employment problems in Liverpool for almost a hundred years, and it is perhaps this that has helped form the prejudiced stereotype of a Scouser: work-shy, economical with the truth, shady and unfashionable when it comes to hair styles and clothing. It must be stressed that most of these attributes are partial and probably only sometimes apply because of the unprivileged economic history of the area. And as a balance to these negative attributes, Scouse culture is said to have many positive, escapist aspects: a strong humour (many famous comedians), a strong history in music (many famous musicians, including the Beatles) and a strong footballing culture (with the internationally-famous teams of Liverpool and Everton).
The West Country
The West Country is made up of the counties of Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. The accents of the area all have a certain burr in common. The vowel sound /a:/ appears in an unusually high number of words in a West Country accent. Furthermore, delivery is slower than with some other accents.
Staying with issues of language, Cornwall used to have its own language: Cornish. Although it is now officially a ‘dead’ language, there are still those who claim to speak it. It is therefore no surprise that the area has many unique words in its vocabulary. Perhaps one of the most interesting terms is ‘grockle’, meaning ‘tourist’ or ‘foreigner’. The ‘wall’ in the name ‘Cornwall’ is itself etymologically-derived from a different, Saxon term that means ‘foreigners’. The difference of Cornwall compared to the rest of the country is betokened by a name at odds with the language of the place, and a place that has a language at odds with the rest of the country.
The West Country is renowned for its traditional foods and beverages, many of which are derived from the traditional industries. There are Cornish pasties, cream teas, ice creams and, of course, cider. The main industries of the region include agriculture, dairy farming, fruit growing (hence the cider), quarrying and mining, fishing . . . and tourism. It was the manual nature of many of the jobs that led to the rise of the Cornish pasty, a sealed pastry that contains a whole meal and can easily be carried from place to place – down mines, out into fields or out onto boats.
As can be seen, The West Country, and particularly Cornwall, has a very strong, individual culture. Cornwall even has its own traditional costume, which bears very little resemblance to any other region’s. Clogs are worn in the traditional dress, and women wear thick black skirts with a white apron and a uniquely shaped hat. There are also unique Cornish tartans.
Originally, East Anglia was made up of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. Nowadays, it also includes Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. Some even argue that Essex is now a part of the region.
The original tribe of East Anglia were the Iceni, who fought Roman oppression when they were led by the Warrior Queen, Boudicca. Boudicca destroyed the Roman towns of Colchester, London and St. Alban’s before she was defeated by the Romans on the road to Anglesey.
East Anglia was then settled by the Angles (a German tribe) in the fifth century, and by the sixth century East Anglia was one of the most powerful kingdoms in England. In fact, East Anglia is the only part of England to retain any reference to the original name for England – Anglia.
The first King of East Anglia was King Wuffa (571-78 AD). The last King was St. Edmund (841?-70 AD), also known as The Martyr, who was defeated by invading Danes in 870 and executed for refusing to renounce his Christianity. Edmund was buried at the town of Bury St. Edmund’s in Suffolk.
The East Anglia of today is a region that does not seem to have changed too much since those times. It is a region of market towns and villages that date back to Saxon times. The capital is Norwich, which features an impressive Norman castle and cathedral.
Geographically, East Anglia has its own unique features. It starts with its flat Fens in the west and then rolls into the Wetlands of the Norfolk Broads in the east. The terrain is flat in the main, causing the region to be sometimes termed The Big Sky Country. With such a landscape, it is unsurprising that one of the major industries is agriculture.
Having been the major kingdom at the time when England underwent its greatest number of invasions by different tribes, and having been one of the first regions invaders would encounter and settle, East Anglia can claim to be the home of the first ever form of ‘English’. And even now, it is a centre for the English language: the university of East Anglia has one of the most famous Creative Writing departments in Britain and East Anglia has its own examining board.
East Anglia does have its own dialect, perhaps because of the fact that the impact of Scandinavian tribes, Teutonic tribes and other early European cultures was greater upon East Anglia than upon the rest of England. There are aspects of the dialect that still reflect the influence of early, dominant European languages. For example, /v/ at the start of a word is often replaced by /w/, so for ‘village’ we can have /wileidƷ/ instead of /vilidƷ/. It can even happen in the middle of a word – so ‘aggravating’ can be pronounced /ǣ grəweətin/. There are also words unique to the region, such as ‘dudder’ for ‘shiver’, ‘mardle’ for ‘gossip’ and ‘titty-totty’ for ‘very small’, to name but a few.
In terms of character, the people of East Anglia are moulded by their history and landscape. They are wary of outsiders (invaders) and quietly expansive (with their wide, unending vistas). However, the ‘recent’ additions of Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Essex to the region have introduced new aspects to the regional identity. Cambridge is of course the capital of Cambridgeshire and is a ‘University City’. Cambridge was founded in the thirteenth century around a group of discontented academics who had chosen to leave Oxford. Predictably, the Cambridge of today is a rich, upmarket city full of old college buildings, students from all round the country and tourists. Essex, on the other hand, furnishes the region with young pretenders – the stereotypes of Essex Man and Essex Girl. Essex Man is a self-made, successful, but coarse professional, and Essex Girl is a sexually-available, badly-dressed, dyed, coarse, yet-somehow-attractive doll. Within popular culture, there are umpteen jokes about Essex Girls, just as in Poland there are Blonde jokes.
Scotland is a country in its own right, complete with unique culture, dress, customs, language, cuisine, art forms, sports, industries, currency, educational system, history and laws. The richness of the Scottish culture cannot be done justice to in the limited space allowed us, but some of the more unique aspects of the culture might be touched upon here.
The traditional language of Scotland is a certain form of Gaelic and it is still spoken in areas of Scotland. Where Gaelic is not spoken, Scots is spoken, which borrows from English and Gaelic. There is a wide spectrum of accents, from the lilting and gentle to the rough and guttural.
The Scottish identity has always been very strong. The Pictish and Celtic tribes and the clans of Scotland successfully resisted Roman invasion and eventually threw off English oppression (though the crown was lost).
Even before Devolution, Scotland kept some of its own laws, including ‘Not Proven’ and the right of sixteen-year-olds to marry without the consent of their parents.
Pictish art forms are unique to Scotland, and the bagpipes are unique to Ireland and Scotland. The tartans of Scotland are unique to their clans, though they were popularised by the Victorians. Traditional fare includes haggis, ‘neeps and tatties’, salmon, Aberdeen Angus steaks, bannocks, porridge, shortbread and the inevitable whisky. The Highland Games take place every year and include feats of strength – such as tossing the caber – and demonstrations of Highland dancing. Still with sports, St Andrew’s is considered the home of golf.
Wales is a country in its own right, complete with unique culture, dress, customs, language, sports, industries and history. The richness of the Welsh culture cannot be done justice to in the limited space allowed us, but some of the more unique aspects of the culture might be touched upon here.
The language of Wales is Welsh, though English has a significant presence. The Welsh accent puts a rising intonation on many words, giving it a singsong quality. Indeed, Wales is known as ‘The Land of Song’ and has a rich tradition in song and poetry. Every year, the Eisteddfodau (English spelling - Eisteddfod) festival takes place in Welsh and a bard is crowned. The figure of the bard is an important one, as it is the bard who keeps the oral culture and Welsh language alive. The bard had an almost religious power within the Druidic era of Welsh history, as it was the bard who was responsible for reciting and describing the traditional history and therefore laws of the Welsh culture. The Welsh language is intrinsic to Welsh identity, and the English language is therefore resisted as being potentially damaging.
Historically, Wales has never been defeated in a war, though the Druids were hard pushed by the Romans and had to retreat all the way back to their holy island of Anglesey. For a long period, Wales had its own royal family, with a line of princes. However, Henry Tudor (Henry VII) represented the intermarriage of the Welsh and English royal families, Henry VIII's Act of Union in 1536 brought Wales under the government of London. Wales lost its own Parliament at that point. With Devolution in 1999 though, Wales gained its own Assembly, and a measure of autonomy once more.
In terms of modern culture, Wales has a strong music scene, with headline musicians such as Tom Jones, The Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and The Stereophonics. Rugby union has always been the national sport, and Wales is one of the world’s top rugbying nations. Economically, Wales might be described as depressed, however. There is a high rate of unemployment, largely due to the decline of the mining and agricultural industries. It is hoped that the creation of the Welsh Assembly will signal the revival of Welsh optimism and the start of Welsh regeneration.
Northern Ireland is made up of the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone. Northern Ireland is often termed ‘Ulster’ in the British press.
Officially, the first language of the island of Eire is a form of Gaelic. However, Gaelic is spoken only by a minority – the majority speak English. There are three main dialects of Irish Gaelic, which are Ulster, Connaught and Munster Irish. In Northern Ireland, people tend to speak Ulster Irish or English with an Ulster accent.
Dominant themes in day to day life in Northern Ireland include the history, politics and religion of the region. Below, is a brief outline of one possible version/reading of that history.
According to mythology and historical evidence, St Patrick visited Ireland in 432AD and converted the Irish to Catholicism. Then, in the twelfth century, Henry II of England invaded Ireland and established an English presence there. At the time, the Church of England was still allied to the Roman Catholic Church, so the English aristocracy that was set up in Ireland was effectively Catholic.
Between 1614 and 1619, the forces of the now Protestant England invaded Ireland. The Catholic English aristocracy in Ireland were ousted. Protestant English rule was established in Ulster and Protestant colonists from England and Scotland started to arrive in Northern Ireland in large numbers.
Come the nineteenth century, the Irish peasantry were suffering terribly under British Rule. The Irish peasantry had had their lands conquered, confiscated and colonised. Roman Catholics – the vast majority of the Irish population – were prevented from acquiring land. And then, in the 1840s, the Potato Famine struck. The Irish peasantry were left unable to feed themselves. In that decade, a million (from a population of eight million) died of starvation. And during the period 1845-1851, another million emigrated (mostly to America).
Agitation and conflict inevitably followed in Ireland and the Irish cause found voice in the British Parliament, with the result that two-thirds of the land in Ireland had become the property of Irish tenants by 1921. The remaining land was transferred by a compulsory law soon after the establishment (1922) of the Irish Free State. The Irish Free State was made up of the twenty-six counties in the south of Eire. Northern Ireland stayed a part of the UK.
The troubles continued, however. Certain factions in the South felt that they had been betrayed in their cause for a united Ireland. Catholics in the North felt that they had either been sold out by the South or that they were being forced by Protestants to be a part of Britain against their will. Those in the South still saw the Protestants in the North as invaders who had stolen a part of Ireland. Protestants in the North saw themselves as defending the homes in which generations of their families had lived; the Protestants of the modern generation felt they had every right to live in the places in which they were born.
There has been all but a hundred years of fighting. There are various terrorist or paramilitary groups who claim to fight for either a united Ireland or for continued Union with Britain. The principle group that fights for a united Ireland is the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the principle groups that fight for continued Union with Britain are known as Loyalists.
Following the initiation of the Peace Process and a referendum, the Northern Ireland Assembly was established. Power was devolved from Westminster to Northern Ireland. The Assembly meets in the Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast. There are 108 members of the Assembly. The First Minister is David Trimble, who heads the Executive Committee (made up of the First Minister, a Deputy First Minister and ten ministers). The Committee was elected on a cross-community basis and seems to have been accepted by most republicans, though time will tell.
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