Multicultural London English

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Multicultural London English (abbreviated MLE) is a sociolect of English that emerged in the late 20th century. It is spoken authentically by working-class, mainly young, people in London (although there is evidence to suggest that certain features are spreading further afield[1]). According to research conducted at Lancaster University and Queen Mary University of London, "In much of the East End of London the Cockney dialect... will have disappeared within another generation.... it will be gone [from the East End] within 30 years.... It has been ‘transplanted’ to... [Essex and Hertfordshire New] towns."[2][3]

As the label suggests, speakers of MLE come from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and live in diverse inner-city neighbourhoods such as Brent, Lambeth and Hackney. As a result, it is (arguably) regarded as a multiethnolect.[4] One study was unable ‘‘to isolate distinct (discrete) ethnic styles’’ in their data on phonetics and quotatives in Hackney and commented that the ‘‘differences between ethnicities, where they exist, are quantitative in nature’’.[5] In fact, they find that it is diversity of friendship groups that is most important; the more ethnically diverse an adolescent's friendship networks are, the more likely it is that they will speak MLE.[5]

In the press, MLE is often referred to as ‘‘Jafaican’’, conveying the idea of ‘‘fake Jamaican’’,[6] because of ‘‘popular belief’’ that it stems from ‘‘immigrants of Jamaican and Caribbean descent’’.[4][7] However, research suggests that the roots of MLE are much more complex.[8][9][10] Two Economic and Social Research Council funded research projects[11][12] found that MLE has most likely developed as a result of Language contact and group second language acquisition.[13] Specifically, it can contain elements from "learners’ varieties of English, Englishes from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, Caribbean creoles and Englishes along with their indigenised London versions (Sebba 1993), local London and south-eastern vernacular varieties of English, local and international youth slang, as well as more levelled and standard-like varieties from various sources." [14]

Grammar[edit]

  • Was/were variation: The past tense of the verb ‘‘to be’’ is regularised. Regularisation of was/were is something that is found across the English speaking world. Many non-standard systems in Britain (and parts of the US Mid-Atlantic coast) use was variably for positive conjugations, and weren’t for negative conjugations (System 1 below) to make the distinction between positive and negative contexts clearer (cf. will/won't and are/ain't).[15] Most non-Standard varieties in the English speaking world have a system where both positive and negative contexts have levelled to was (System 2 below).[16] Speakers of MLE use any of the three systems, with choice correlating with ethnicity and gender.[16] Cheshire and Fox (2008) found the use of non-standard was to be most common among Black Caribbean speakers, and least common among those of Bangladeshi decent.[16] Bangladeshis were also found to use non-standard weren't the least, but this variable was used more by White British speakers than anyone else.[16]
Standard English Non-standard system 1 Non-standard system 2
I was, I wasn't I was, I weren't I was, I wasn't
You were, you weren't You was, you weren't You was, you wasn't
He/she/it was, he/she/it wasn't He/she/it was, he/she/it weren't He/she/it was, he/she/it wasn't
We were, we weren't We was, we weren't We was, we wasn't
  • An innovative feature is the ability to form questions in ‘‘Why ... for?’’[17] compared to Standard English ‘‘Why ...?’’ or ‘‘What ... for?’’.
  • The ‘‘traditional Southern’’[17] England phrasal preposition ‘‘off of’’ has ‘‘robust use’’,[17] especially with ‘‘Anglo females’’.[17]
  • Man as a pronoun: is sometimes used as a second-person singular pronoun, which may be rendered ‘‘man's’’ when combined with certain verbs such as ‘‘to be’’ and ‘‘to have’’: ‘‘man's got arrested’’, ‘‘man's getting emotional’’. ‘‘Man’’ can also be used to refer to the second-person singular: ‘‘Where's man going?’’ (Where are you going?)[18]

Discourse-pragmatic markers[edit]

  • Innit, arguably a reduction of 'isn't it' has a third discourse function in MLE, in addition to the widespread usage as a tag-question or a follow-up as in [1] and [2] below. In MLE, innit can also mark information structure overtly, to mark a topic or to foreground new information, as in [3].[4]

[1] they was getting jealous though innit

[2] Hadiya: it weren’t like it was an accident

Bisa: innit

[3] yeah I know. I'm a lot smaller than all of them man and who were like "whoa". I mean the sister innit she's about five times bigger than you innit Mark?

Phonology[edit]

While older speakers in London display a vowel and consonant system that matches earlier descriptions, young speakers often have different qualities. The qualities are on the whole not the levelled ones noted in recent studies (such as Williams & Kerswill 1999 and Przedlacka 2002) of teenage speakers in South East England outside London: Milton Keynes, Reading, Luton, Essex, Slough and Ashford. Yet, from principles of levelling, it would be expected that younger speakers would show precisely the levelled qualities, with further developments reflecting the innovatory status of London as well as the passage of time. However, evidence, such as Cheshire et al. (2011) and Cheshire et al. (2013), contradicts that expectation.

Vowels[edit]

  • Fronting of /ʊ/, the vowel in FOOT: "more retracted in the outer-city borough of Havering than in Hackney" [13]
  • Lack of /oʊ/-fronting: fronting of the offset of /oʊ/ "absent in most inner-London speakers" of both sexes and all ethnicities but "present in outer-city girls".[5]
  • /aɪ/-lowering across region: it is seen as a reversal of the diphthong shift. However, the added fronting is greater in London than in the southeastern periphery, resulting in variants such as [aɪ]. Fronting and monophthongisation of /aɪ/ are correlated with ethnicity and 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, it is a reversal of the diphthong shift. It can be interpreted as a London innovation with diffusion to the periphery.
  • Raised onset of the vowel in words like FACE, which results in variants such as [eɪ]. Like /aɪ/, monophthongisation of /eɪ/ is strongest among non-whites. It is also seen as a reversal of the diphthong shift.[13][19]
  • /aʊ/ realised 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.
  • Advanced fronting of /uː/ results in realisations such as [ʏː] [13]
  • Backing of /æ/ can result in variants such as [].[13]
  • Backing of /ʌ/ results in variants such as [ɑ] or [ʌ], rather than [ɐ].[13]

Consonants[edit]

  • Reversal of H-dropping: word-initial /h/ was commonly dropped in traditional cockney in words like hair and hand. That is now much less common, with some MLE speakers not dropping /h/ at all.[13]
  • Backing of /k/ to [q]: /k/ is pronounced further back in the vocal tract and is realised as [q] when it occurs before non-high back vowels, such as in words like cousin and come.[13][19]
  • Th-fronting: /θ/ is fronted to [f] in words such as three and through (which become free and frough), and /ð/ is fronted to [v] words such as brother and another, which become brover and anover.[19][5]
  • Th-stopping: interdental fricatives can be stopped, and thing and that become ting and dat.[5]
  • According to Geoff Lindsey, one of the most striking features of MLE is the advanced articulation of the sibilants /s, z/ as post-dental [, ].[20]
  • Like many in most of the rest of England, Multicultural London English is non-rhotic.

Vocabulary[edit]

Examples of vocabulary common in Multicultural London English include:

Adjectives[edit]

  • ‘‘Bait’’ (obvious/well known)
  • ‘‘Bare’’ [bɛː] / [ɓɛː] (latter for further emphasis) (Generic intensifier)
  • ‘‘Clapped’’ (ugly)
  • ‘‘Peak’’ [piːk] (Serious/unfortunate)
  • ‘‘Peng’’ (Attractive)
  • ‘‘Buff’’ (Attractive) (often used in conjunction with ‘‘Ting’’ meaning an attractive situation, or more commonly, an attractive female)
  • ‘‘Deep’’ (profound)

Interjections[edit]

  • ‘‘Dun know’’ (‘‘of course’’, also an expression of approval)
  • ‘‘Alie!’’ (‘‘I know’’, or an expression of agreement)
  • ‘‘Oh my days!’’ [oʊ maː deɪz] (a generalised exclamation)
  • ‘‘Safe’’ [seɪf] (expression of approval, greeting, thanks, agreement, and also used as a parting phrase)

Pronouns[edit]

  • ‘‘Man’’ [mæn] (First-person singular)
  • ‘‘Them Man’’ [mæn] (They)
  • ‘‘Us Man’’ [mæn] (We)

Nouns[edit]

  • ‘‘Akh’’ (an endearing term, derived from the Arabic word for brother)
  • ‘‘Bruv’’ (an endearing term used for a close friend or brother)
  • ‘‘Creps’’ (shoes)
  • ‘‘Cunch’’ (the countryside or any town outside London)
  • ‘‘Ends’’ [ɛnz] (Neighbourhood)
  • ‘‘Fam’’ [fæm] (Short for ‘‘family’’, can refer to ‘‘friend’’)
  • ‘‘Myth’’ (used when something is untrue or not going to happen)
  • ‘‘Mandem’’ (group of males)
  • ‘‘OT’’ (out of town)
  • ‘‘Paigon’’ [ˈpeɪɡən] (A modified spelling of English word ‘‘pagan’’, to refer to a fake friend/enemy)
  • ‘‘Roadman’’ (a youth who spends a lot of his time on the streets, can also be used as a general slur)
  • ‘‘Sket’’ (a promiscuous female)
  • ‘‘Ting’’ (a thing or a situation, also an attractive female e.g. 'bad tings')
  • ‘‘Wasteman’’ (A worthless/useless person)
  • ‘‘Yard’’ [jɑːd] (Dwelling)

Verbs[edit]

  • ‘‘Aks’’ (ask, an example of metathesis that also occurs in West Country dialects)
  • ‘‘Allow’’ (to urge someone else to exercise self-restraint)
  • ‘‘Buss’’ (to wear something or to introduce someone to something, or to ejaculate)
  • ‘‘Bait out’’ (to speak ill of)
  • ‘‘Cut’’ (to leave)
  • ‘‘Jerk’’ (to rob)
  • ‘‘Link’’ (to rendez-vous)

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Bhangra Muffins from Goodness Gracious Me use an early form of Multicultural London English.
  • Characters of all ethnicities in the Channel 4 series Phoneshop use Multicultural London English.
  • Characters in the film KiDULTHOOD and its sequel AdULTHOOD also use the dialect, as well as the parody film Anuvahood.
  • The satirical character Ali G parodies the speech patterns of Multicultural London English for comic effect.
  • The gang-member protagonists of the film Attack the Block speak Multicultural London English.
  • Lauren Cooper (and her friends Lisa and Ryan) from The Catherine Tate Show often use Multicultural London English vocabulary.
  • In the feature film Kingsman: The Secret Service, the protagonist Gary ‘‘Eggsy’’ Unwin uses MLE, but his mother and stepfather use regular Cockney.
  • Lisa, the police officer in Little Miss Jocelyn, speaks Multicultural London English and interprets speech for colleagues.
  • Armstrong & Miller has a series of Second World War sketches with two RAF pilots who juxtapose the dialect's vocabulary and grammar with a 1940s RP accent.
  • A BBC article about Adele mentioned her as being a speaker of Multicultural London English.[21]
  • The Chicken Connoisseur (Elijah Quashie), a YouTube user who rates the quality of takeaways selling chicken and chips, frequently uses Multicultural London English vocabulary.[22][23]
  • The TV show Chewing Gum (TV series) is set in Tower Hamlets and uses Multicultural London English throughout.

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "UrBEn-ID Urban British English project". 
  2. ^ University of Lancaster press release 2010.
  3. ^ BBC News 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Cheshire, Jenny; Nortier, Jacomine; Adger, David (2015). "Emerging Multiethnolects in Europe" (PDF). Queen Mary Occasional Papers in Linguistics: 4. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue; Kerswill, Paul; Torgersen, Eivind (2008). "Ethnicity, friendship network and social practices as the motor of dialect change: Linguistic innovation in London". Sociolinguistica. 22 (1): 1–23. doi:10.1515/9783484605299.1. 
  6. ^ Clark, Laura (2006). "Jafaican is wiping out inner-city English accents". The Daily Mail. 
  7. ^ Braier, Rachel (2013). "Jafaican? No we're not.". The Guardian. 
  8. ^ "Paul Kerswill, University of York webpage". 
  9. ^ "Susan Fox, University of Bern webpage". 
  10. ^ "Eivind Torgersen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology webpage". 
  11. ^ "Linguistic Innovators: The English of Adolescents in London ESRC grant page". 
  12. ^ "Multicultural London English: the emergence, acquisition and diffusion of a new variety ESRC grant page". 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Cheshire, Jenny; Kerswill, Paul; Fox, Sue; Torgersen, Eivind (2011-04-01). "Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English". Journal of Sociolinguistics. 15 (2): 151–196. ISSN 1467-9841. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2011.00478.x. 
  14. ^ Kerswill 2013, p. 5.
  15. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Schilling-Estes, Natalie (1994). "Convergent explanation and alternative regularization patterns: Were/weren’t levelling in a vernacular English variety.". Language Variation and Change. 6: 273–302. 
  16. ^ a b c d Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue (2008). "Was/were variation: A perspective from London". Language Variation and Change. 21 (1): 1–38. ISSN 1469-8021. doi:10.1017/S0954394509000015. 
  17. ^ a b c d Kerswill 2007.
  18. ^ Cheshire, Jenny (2013). "Grammaticalisation in social context: The emergence of a new English pronoun". Journal of Sociolinguistics. 17 (5): 608–633 – via Wiley Online. 
  19. ^ a b c Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue; Kerswill, Paul; Torgersen, Eivind (2013). "Language contact and language change in the multicultural metropolis". Revue Française De Linguistique Appliqueé. XVIII. 
  20. ^ Lindsey 2011.
  21. ^ BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35152397 BBC Check |url= value (help).  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/the-chicken-connoisseur-schoolboy-reviews-london-chicken-shops-in-search-of-the-pengest-munch-a3416416.html
  23. ^ http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/chicken-connoisseur-boy-goes-viral-with-london-chicken-shop-reviews-series-called-the-pengest-munch_uk_584a71e1e4b0b7ff851ca90a

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]