Multicultural London English

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Multicultural London English
British Black English, London Jamaican, British Jamaican Creole
Region London
Native speakers
(no estimate available)
Early forms
none - mainly a spoken language, MLE users write in standard British English
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

Multicultural London English (abbreviated MLE) is a dialect (and/or sociolect) of English that emerged in the late 20th century. It is spoken authentically by working class, mainly young, people in London. However, elements of the sociolect are widely imitated throughout southern England. According to research conducted at Lancaster University, Multicultural London English is gaining territory from Cockney.[1]

It is said to contain many elements from the languages of the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other Commonwealth Caribbean islands) and South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka),[2][3] African American English, as well as traditional Cockney.[3] Although the colloquial name "Jafaican" implies that it is pseudo-Jamaican, some researchers indicate that it is not the language of white youth trying to imitate black, but rather that "[it is] more likely that young people have been growing up in London exposed to a mixture of second-language English and local London English and that this new variety has emerged from that mix.



  • "Oh my days!" [ou ma deiz] (A generalised exclamation)
  • "My boy" [ma bɔj] (Best friend)
  • "Blud"/"Blad" [blʌd/blæd] (Friend)
  • "Fam" [fæm] (Short for "family", can refer to "friend")
  • "Aks" [ɒ̈ːks/ɒ̈ːqs] (Inversion of "ask": - such metathesis also occurs in West Country English)
  • "Man(s)" [mæn(z)] (First-person singular pronoun used by males)
  • "Safe" [sɛif] (Expression of approval and also used as a parting phrase)
  • "Bere" [bɛː/ɓɛː (latter for further emphasis)] (Generic intensifier)
  • "More better" [moː bɛʔa] (Comparative in place of "better") (rarely used)
  • "Yard" [jaːd] ("Home")
  • "Ends" [ɛnz] ("Neighbourhood")
  • "Baggaman(s)" [bæggamæn(z)] (A multitude)
  • "Fit" [fɪʔ] (Attractive)


The past tense of the verb "to be" is regularised, with "was" becoming universal for all conjugations, and "weren't" likewise for negative conjugations. This leaves "I was, you was, he was" etc., and "I weren't, you weren't, he weren't" etc.[4]

Tag-questions are limited to "isn't it", realised as "innit", and the corresponding "is it?".[citation needed]



While older speakers in London display a vowel and consonant system that matches earlier descriptions, young speakers largely have different qualities. These qualities are on the whole not the levelled ones noted in recent studies[which?] of teenage speakers in south-east England outside London, e.g. Milton Keynes, Reading and Ashford. Yet older speakers would expect youth to show precisely these levelled qualities, with further developments reflecting the innovatory status of London as well as the passage of time. However, evidence[where?] contradicts this expectation:

  • fronting of /ʊ/ less advanced in London than in periphery: lack of fronting of /ʊ/ in inner city is conservative, matching Caribbean Englishes.
  • lack of /oʊ/-fronting: fronting of the offset of /oʊ/ absent in most inner-London speakers of both sexes and all ethnicities, present in outer-city girls.
  • /aɪ/-lowering across region: This is seen as a reversal of the Diphthong Shift. However, the added fronting is greater in London than in the south-east periphery, resulting in variants such as [aɪ]. Fronting and monophthongisation of /aɪ/ is correlated with ethnicity; it is strongest among non-whites. It seems to be a geographically directional and diachronically gradual process. The change (from approximately [ɔɪ]) involves lowering of the onset, and as such is a reversal of the Diphthong Shift. It is interpretable as a London innovation with diffusion to the periphery.
  • raised onset of the vowel in words like FACE: This results in variants such as [eɪ]. Like /aɪ/, monophthongisation of /eɪ/ is strongest among non-whites. This is also seen as a reversal of the Diphthong Shift.
  • /aʊ/ realized as [aː] and not "levelled" [aʊ]: In inner-city London, [aː] is the norm for /aʊ/. Additionally, [ɑʊ] is used by some non-whites, especially girls, in the inner city.
  • backing of /k/ to [q] before non-high back vowels[5]

Some features continue changes already noted in the south-east:

  • reversal of H-dropping
  • advanced fronting of /uː/: This results in realizations such as [ʏː]. Unexpectedly, it is most advanced among non-white Londoners and whites with non-white networks.
  • backing of /æ/: This can result in variants such as [a̠].
  • backing of /ʌ/: This results in variants such as [ɑ] or [ʌ], rather than [ɐ].
  • Th-fronting[4]
  • A variation on th-fronting is the use of alveolar stops in place of dental fricatives.

Use in popular culture[edit]

  • Characters of all ethnicities in the Channel 4 series Phoneshop use Multicultural London English.
  • Characters in the film KiDULTHOOD and it's sequel-AdULTHOOD-also use the dialect as well as its parody Anuvahood.
  • The satirical character Ali G parodies the speech patterns of white youths mimicking Multicultural London English for comic effect.
  • The gang-member protagonists of the film Attack the Block speak Multicultural London English.
  • On March the 8th, a self-confessed "gangsta from manni" (Manchester) tweeted a customer complaint to Argos in Multicultural London English and famously received a reply therein.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cockney to disappear from London 'within 30 years', BBC News, 1 July 2010
  2. ^ Paul Kerswill (3 July 2010). "The English slanguage". The Sun (London). Retrieved 2011-04-05. 
  3. ^ a b Harry Mount (1 Jul 2010). "Word on the street in London". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2011-04-05. 
  4. ^ a b [1]
  5. ^ *Torgersen, Eivind; Kerswill, Paul; Fox, Susan (2007), "Phonological innovation in London teenage speech", 4th Conference on Language Variation in Europe, archived from the original on June 9, 2011 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]