After many invasions in their ancient history, the people of Great
Britain can claim a diverse lineage of European peoples, including
Celts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, French, and Danes. Considerable intermarriage
over the centuries has meant that most of these differences have
According to census estimates from 1994, about 82 percent of the
country's population are English, 10 percent Scottish, 2 percent
Welsh, and 4 percent Irish; 2 percent are people of other races,
primarily West Indian, Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, and other European.
England is the largest country of the union, with 130,362 square
kilometers and a population of 46,170,000 people in 1991.
English is the official language of the United Kingdom and is the
first language of the vast majority of its citizens. The use of
language is extremely important to Britain's class structure. Some
educated English people, regardless of their class origin, strive
to free themselves of regional or local accents in order to sound
like educated English-speaking people.
Some people in England regard regional accents and slang as substandard.
On the other hand, many local people, such as Cockneys in East London
and people in northern England, enjoy their particular way of speaking,
regarding it as warmer and friendlier than standard English.
Scottish people appreciate the Scottish accent so much they insist
the BBC carry programs with Scottish-accented speakers. The Celtic
language, an ancient tongue, continues to be spoken in Scotland
by some people, usually those in the more remote fringes of the
country, especially in the Hebrides Islands.
Approximately 80,000 Scots speak Scottish Gaelic, a type of Celtic
language. English is the predominant language in Northern Ireland,
although at least some of the Roman Catholic minority speak Irish,
another Gaelic dialect, as a second language.
The United Kingdom guarantees its citizens religious freedom without
interference from the state or the community, and most of the world's
religions have followers in Britain. As in many European countries
today, the majority of the population in Britain does not regularly
attend religious services, yet nearly all faiths have devoted congregations
of active members.
An increasing percentage of the population professes no religious
faith and some organizations represent secular outlooks. Estimating
membership is difficult because congregations count their members
differently, and government figures rely upon the numbers provided
by the different groups.
In the past religion was often deeply entwined with politics. The
only place this is still true in the United Kingdom is in Northern
Ireland, where two communities use religious designations to express
different, and hostile, political agendas.
Protestants, largely are descendants of Scottish and English settlers,
interested in maintaining their union with Britain, while Roman
Catholics, a minority of around 40 percent, campaign strongly for
union with the Republic of Ireland.