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Is the London Cockney Accent Dying due to Multicultural English?


Accents are an amazing window onto our history.  As accents die, so too are accents born in response to changes in our environment.

In ‘The Lost Cockney Voice’ available on podcast via Radio 4 downloads, Cole Moreton talks about the unique cockney accent of his grandmother’s era.

With a beautiful and rich accent, Cockney tells a story in its own right and gives life to British East End culture during the pre-and post-Second World War years.

A mix of ‘Queen’s English’ and ‘London’, the cockney accent tells the story of individuals who made efforts to gentrify their speech by assimilating the sounds of ‘posh’ English as spoken on the wireless and mixing it with their own existing East End London speech.

It is said that the cockney accent will have disappeared in the next ten years and given way to ‘Multicultural London English’ (MLE).

This transformation in speech gives a unique insight into the impact of societal change on the way in which we present ourselves – in this case, through language.

Spoken primarily by the young, London working class (and, some might argue, by those of non-working classes in an effort to be ‘hip’), MLE is a multi-ethnolect and data exists to show that the more culturally diverse a friendship group, the more likely individuals are to speak MLE. The word ‘data’ is key – MLE has been studied, analysed and quantified. 

Considerable investment has been placed into studying this phenomenon and the results are fascinating.

Contrary to the assertion that MLE is in fact ‘Jafaican’ (fake Jamaican), scholars have shown that MLE is a culturally driven phenomenon relating to diversity and cultural exposure.  As with Cockney, we have a clear example of the impact of society on the language spoken.

It is believed that MLE features second language English languages such as that spoken in Africa and the Indian Subcontinent.  It also features Caribbean creoles and slang words.

In the same way that we see the development of ‘3rd cultures’ in multicultural groups, MLE presents us with a prime example of the way in which diverse groups try to assimilate difference and find a common way forward. 

From this perspective, an appreciation of MLE for those in the cultural training arena is essential.  As is too, respect for a language that pushes for synergy and common ground.

Photo of Pearly Queen by Spitalfields_E1 on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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