British Culture and Language

Culture and Language

This is to help you make sense of and navigate the Culture and Language course material. You can just use the menu above if you prefer. Start with the introduction, which gives a brief overview, and then go on to look at the early culture section, which looks at the earliest remaining evidence of human society in the British Isles.

Stonehenge_(sun)
Some of the earliest evidence of human society in the British Isles.

We don’t know what languages were spoken in these very early times but we do have evidence for the Celtic languages. These are introduced in the early language section. After that, we consider how English came into existence as a new language in the British Isles from around the beginning of the fifth century AD when the Germanic tribes invaded present day England.   We go on to think about how new cultural identities were created by these large scale movements of people. We are then in a position to consider the status of the ancient Celtic languages in the British Isles today.

WelshRoadSign
You will often see evidence of multiple identities in the British Isles.

We then focus on the development of English, first the Germanic Old English, which was strongly influenced by the French connection offered by the Norman French after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and led to the development of the Middle English of writers like Geoffrey Chaucer as English became more fashionable. Then we consider how the connection with France collapsed during the Hundred Years War, a kind of very long and violent divorce from France. England was finally forced to go it alone, but not before the war had been turned into a battle between Good and Evil by Joan of Arc. This section ends with a discussion of how the development of language and culture is a process of trial and error: we learn from our mistakes. In particular, English developed as a simple, user-friendly language precisely because it was treated as the language of second-class citizens.

Jeanne_d'_Arc_(Eugene_Thirion)
Joan of Arc turned the Hundred Years War around and sent the English back to England.

English is starting to become modern now. The new Tudor dynasty originated in Wales but they were keen to centralize their power and their policies tended to work against the Welsh language. A strong emphasis on English as the official language of England was an important part of Tudor policy; this was to lead directly to the development of modern English. As the Tudors wanted to centralize and unify the country, ancient Celtic languages like Cornish were destroyed. The Welsh language and identity also looked like it would die out but, largely because of the actions of Elizabeth I, Wales survives. Finally, we take a look at the development of English as a native language in Scotland and Ireland.