Multicultural London English

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Multicultural London English
Region London
Early forms
English alphabet (Latin script) ― mainly a spoken dialect; MLE speakers write in standard British English.
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

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 Tower Hamlets 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’’ because of ‘‘popular belief’’ that it stems from ‘‘immigrants of Jamaican and African descent’’.[4][6][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 [Caribbean] Englishes, along with their indigenised London versions..., local London and south-eastern vernacular varieties of English, local and international youth slang, as well as more ... standard-like varieties from various sources’’.[14]



  • Was/were variation: The past tense of the verb ‘‘to be’’ is regularised. Regularisation of was/were is something that is found elsewhere in the UK (and other varieties of English such as American English), but MLE has a unique system. Most non-standard systems use was variably for positive conjugations, and weren’t for negative conjugations (System 1 below) to make the distinction between positive and negative contexts clear.[15] However, in MLE another system has emerged in which both positive and negative contexts have levelled to was.[16] This feature is rarer among those of Bangladeshi ethnicity who are more likely to use the Standard English system.[17]
Standard English Non-standard system 1 Non-standard system 2 (MLE)
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?’’.
  • Tag-questions are limited to ‘‘isn’t it’’, realised as ‘‘innit’’, and the corresponding ‘‘is it?’’.[citation needed]
  • 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 first-person singular pronoun, which may be rendered ‘‘manz’’ when combined with certain verbs such as ‘‘to be’’ and ‘‘to have’’: ‘‘manz got arrested’’, ‘‘manz getting emotional’’. ‘‘Man’’ can also be used to refer to the second-person singular: ‘‘Where's man going?’’ (Where are you going?)



While older speakers in London display a vowel and consonant system that matches earlier descriptions, young speakers largely 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 these levelled qualities, with further developments reflecting the innovatory status of London as well as the passage of time. However, evidence, such as Kerswill & al. 2006 and Torgerson & al. 2007, contradicts that expectation:\


  • fronting of /ʊ/ ‘‘less advanced in London than in periphery’’:[18]‘‘lack of fronting of /ʊ/ in inner city is conservative, matching Caribbean Englishes’’.[18]
  • 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’’.[18]
  • /aɪ/-lowering across region: it is seen as a reversal of the Diphthong Shift.[19] 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, it 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. It is also seen as a reversal of the Diphthong Shift.
  • /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/: It results in realisations such as [ʏː]. ‘‘Unexpectedly, it [is] most advanced among non-Anglo Londoners and Anglos with non-Anglo networks’’.[18]
  • Backing of /æ/:[18] This can result in variants such as [].
  • Backing of /ʌ/:[18] This results in variants such as [ɑ] or [ʌ], rather than [ɐ].


  • Reversal of H-dropping[18] - word initial /h/ was commonly dropped in traditional cockney in words like hair and hand. This is now much less common, with some MLE speakers not dropping /h/ at all.
  • Backing of /k/ to [q] - /k/ is pronounced further back in the vocal tract and realised as [q] when it occurs before non-high back vowels, such as in words like cousin and come.[13][17][20]
  • Th-fronting - interdental fricatives can be fronted, so that /θ/ is fronted to [f] in words such as three and through (which become free and frough), and /ð/ is fronted to [v], e.g. brother becomes brover, another becomes anover.
  • th-stopping - both voiced and voiceless interdental fricatives can be stopped, so that thing becomes ting, and that becomes dat.[13][21]
  • According to Geoff Lindsey, one of the most striking features of MLE is the advanced articulation of the sibilants /s, z/ as post-dental [, ].[22]


Examples of vocabulary common in Multicultural London English include:


  • ‘‘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)


  • ‘‘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)


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


  • ‘‘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] (House)


  • ‘‘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)
  • ‘‘Cut’’ (to leave)
  • ‘‘Jerk’’ (to rob)
  • ‘‘Link’’ (to rendez-vous)

Use 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 its parody 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 hero Gary ‘‘Eggsy’’ Unwin uses MLE but his mother and step-father use standard Cockney.
  • Lisa, the police officer in Little Miss Jocelyn, speaks Multicultural London English, using her knowledge thereof to interpret speech for colleagues.
  • Armstrong & Miller has a series of Second World War sketches with two RAF pilots who juxtapose MLE with a 1940s RP accent.
  • A BBC article about Adele mentioned her as being a speaker of Multicultural London English.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "UrBEn-ID Urban British English project". 
  2. ^ University of Lancaster press release 2010.
  3. ^ BBC News 2010.
  4. ^ a b Cheshire, Jenny; Nortier, Jacomine; Adger, David (2015). "Emerging Multiethnolects in Europe" (PDF). Queen Mary Occasional Papers in Linguistics: 4. 
  5. ^ a b 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. ^ Braier, Rachel (2013). "Jafaican? No we're not.". The Guardian. 
  7. ^ Clark, Laura (2006). "Jafaican is wiping out inner-city English accents". The Daily Mail. 
  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 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. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2011.00478.x. ISSN 1467-9841. 
  14. ^ Kerswill 2013, p. 5.
  15. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Schilling-Estes, Natalie (1994). "Convergent explanation and alternative regularization patterns: Were/weren't leveling in a vernacular English variety.". Language Variation and Change. 6:273-302. 
  16. ^ Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue (2008). "Was/were variation: A perspective from London". Language Variation and Change. 21 (1): 1–38. doi:10.1017/S0954394509000015. ISSN 1469-8021. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Kerswill 2007.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Kerswill et al. 2006.
  19. ^ Cheshire et al. 2005.
  20. ^ Torgerson et al. 2007.
  21. ^ FASS.
  22. ^ Lindsey 2011.
  23. ^ BBC BBC Check |url= value (help).  Missing or empty |title= (help)


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]