Estuary English

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Estuary English is an accent of English widely spoken in South East England, especially along the River Thames and its estuary. Phonetician John C. Wells defines Estuary English as "Standard English spoken with the accent of the south-east of England".[1] The name comes from the area around the Thames, particularly its Estuary. Estuary English can be heard from some people in east London, north Kent, and south Essex. Estuary English shares many features with Cockney, and there is some debate among linguists as to where Cockney speech ends and Estuary English begins.

The variety first came to public prominence in an article by David Rosewarne in the Times Educational Supplement in October 1984.[2] Rosewarne argued that it may eventually replace Received Pronunciation in the south-east. Studies have indicated that Estuary English is not a single coherent form of English; rather, it consists of some (but not all) phonetic features of working-class London speech spreading at various rates socially into middle-class speech and geographically into other accents of south-eastern England.[3][4]


A possible realization of Estuary /əʊ/ on a vowel chart, from Lodge (2009:175)

Estuary English is characterised by the following features:

  • Non-rhoticity.
  • Use of intrusive R: pronouncing an "r" sound when no r is present to prevent consecutive vowel sounds
  • A broad A (ɑː) in words such as bath, grass, laugh, etc.
  • T glottalisation: realising non-initial, most commonly final, /t/ as a glottal stop instead of an alveolar stop, e.g. can't (pronounced /kɑːnʔ/).
  • Yod-coalescence, i.e., the use of the affricates [dʒ] and [tʃ] instead of the clusters [dj] and [tj] in words like dune and Tuesday. Thus, these words sound like June and choose day, respectively.
  • L-vocalisation, i.e., the use of [o], [ʊ], or [ɯ] where RP uses [ɫ] in the final positions or in a final consonant cluster, for example whole (pronounced /hoʊ/).
  • The wholly–holy split.[5]
  • /əʊ/ (as in 'GOAT') may be pronounced [ɑːɪ̯̈] or [ɑːʏ̯̈], i.e. with the first element somewhat lengthened and much more open than in RP, and the second element being near-close central, either with or without lip-rounding.[6]

Despite the similarity between the two dialects, the following characteristics of Cockney pronunciation are generally not considered to be present in Estuary English:[2][7][8]

However, the boundary between Estuary English and Cockney is far from clear-cut,[9][10] hence even these features of Cockney might occur occasionally in Estuary English.

In particular, it has been suggested that th-fronting is "currently making its way" into Estuary English, for example those from Isle of Thanet often refer to Thanet as "Plannit Fannit" (Planet Thanet).[8]


Estuary English is widely encountered throughout the south and south-east of England, particularly among the young. Many consider it to be a working-class accent, though it is by no means limited to the working class. In the debate that surrounded a 1993 article about Estuary English, a London businessman claimed that Received Pronunciation was perceived as unfriendly, so Estuary English was now preferred for commercial purposes.[11]

Some people[who?] adopt the accent as a means of "blending in", appearing to be more working class, or in an attempt to appear to be "a common man" – sometimes this affectation of the accent is derisively referred to as "Mockney". A move away from traditional RP accents is almost universal among middle class young people.[12]

The term "Estuary English" is sometimes used with pejorative connotations: Sally Gunnell, a former Olympic athlete who became a television presenter for Channel 4 and the BBC, quit the BBC, announcing she felt "very undermined" by the network's lack of support after she was widely criticised for her "uninspiring interview style" and "awful estuary English".[13]

London accent[edit]

The term "Estuary English" can also be considered a milder (closer to RP) variety of the "'London Accent". The spread of the London Accent extends many miles outside London and all of the neighbouring home counties surrounding London have residents who moved from London and took their London Accent with them. The London Accent or its Londonised milder variant, called “Estuary English”, can be heard in all of the New Towns, coastal resorts, and larger regional cities within 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 km) of London in southern England.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Estuary English Q and A - JCW". Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  2. ^ a b "Rosewarne, David (1984). ''Estuary English''. Times Educational Supplement, 19 (October 1984)". 1999-05-21. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  3. ^ A handout by John C. Wells, one of the first to write a serious description of the would-be variety. Also summarised by him here [1].
  4. ^ Altendorf, Ulrike (2003). Estuary English - Levelling at the Interface of RP and South-Eastern British English. Tübingen: Narr[dead link]
  5. ^ Estuary English: A Controversial Issue? by Joanna Ryfa, from
  6. ^ Lodge (2009:175)
  7. ^ "Wells, John (1994). ''Transcribing Estuary English - a discussion document''. Speech Hearing and Language: UCL Work in Progress, volume 8, 1994, pages 259-267". Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  8. ^ a b "Altendorf, Ulrike (1999). ''Estuary English: is English going Cockney?'' In: Moderna Språk, XCIII, 1, 1-11" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  9. ^ Maidment, J. A. (1994). "Estuary English: Hybrid or Hype?". Paper presented at the 4th New Zealand Conference on Language & Society, Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand, August 1994. University College London. Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  10. ^ Haenni, Ruedi (1999). "The case of Estuary English: supposed evidence and a perceptual approach". University of Basel dissertation. University College London. Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  11. ^ David Crystal, "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language", p.327
  12. ^ Crystal, David. "RP and its successors". BBC. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  13. ^ Jo Knowsley (15 January 2006). "BBC undermined me so I quit, says Gunnell". The Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  14. ^ Rogaliński, Paweł (2011). British Accents: Cockney, RP, Estuary English. p. 11. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]