Language Dossier

Varieties of Accents in London

The following varieties of English are used in London:

  • The London accent, in particular, Cockney (spoken mainly in the East End and exemplified in the movie My Fair Lady).
  • Received Pronunciation ('R.P.').
  • Posh accents (spoken in areas in London such as Kensington, Chelsea and Mayfair)
  • Southern rural accents, of which the West Country, Kent and East Anglian accents are examples.
  • Estuary English.
  • Multicultural London English (abbreviated MLE).

The London Accent

 

The London accent long ago acquired the Cockney label, and was similar to many accents of the South East of England. The accent of a 21st century 'Londoner' varies widely; what is becoming more and more common amongst the under 30s however is some fusion of Cockney, Received Pronunciation, and a whole array of 'ethnic' accents, in particular Caribbean, which form an accent labelled Multicultural London English (MLE).

Multicultural London English

Multicultural London English (abbreviated MLE), colloquially called Jafaican, is a dialect (and/or sociolect) of English that emerged in the late 20th century. It is spoken mainly in inner London, and some outer London areas such as Brent, Ealing, Newham, Croydon, Sutton and Enfield. According to research conducted at Queen Mary, University of London, Multicultural London English is gaining territory from Cockney.

It is said to contain many elements from the languages of the Caribbean (Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago), South Asia and West Africa, as well as remnants of traditional Cockney. Although the street name, "Jafaican", implies that it is "fake" Jamaican, researchers indicate that it is not the language of white kids trying to "play cool" 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". MLE is used mainly by young, urban working class people.

Recent Changes in RP Use

Relatively recently, the London accent -particularly Cockney- and Received Pronunciation have increasingly influenced southern accents outside London via social class mobility and the expansion of London. From some time during the 19th century, middle and upper-middle classes began to adopt affectations, including the RP accent, associated with the upper class. In the late 20th and 21st century other social changes, such as middle-class RP-speakers forming an increasing component of rural communities, have accentuated the spread of RP. The south-east coast accents traditionally have several features in common with the West country; for example, rhoticity and the a: sound in words such as bath, cast, etc. However, the younger generation in the area is more likely to be non-rhotic and use the London/East Anglian A: sound in bath.

After the Second World War, about one million Londoners were relocated to new and expanded towns throughout the south east, bringing with them their distinctive London accent (and possibly sowing the seed of Estuary English).

Examples of London varities used by public figures

  • Received Pronunciation (RP): The Queen's accent has changed slightly over the years but she still speaks a conservative form of RP. Margaret Thatcher, Tony Benn and the NoŽl Coward films are examples of old-fashioned RP, whereas David Cameron and John Cleese are examples of contemporary RP.
  • London accent (Cockney accent): Petula Clark, Julie Andrews, the bands the Rolling Stones, and The Who, actor Stanley Holloway (Eliza Doolittle's father in My Fair Lady), footballer David Beckham, actors Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine. Ray Winstone has quite an old-fashioned Cockney accent, and his replacement of an initial /r/ with a /w/ has been stigmatised. More examples can be heard in the movies Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. The Sex Pistols had Cockney accents, with Steve Jones having the strongest.
  • Mockney (also called Estuary English): used by Madonnaís ex-husband Guy Ritchie and many musicians, it is a variant of the London regional accent characterised by a non-standard mixture of linguistic and social class features. More examples: athlete Sally Gunnell, the model Jordan (Katie Price).
  • West London: the journalist Janet Street Porter.


Hugh Grant's Posh Accent


Hugh Grant was born at Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, London, England. His

mother worked as a schoolteacher and taught Latin, French and music for more than 30 years in the state schools of west London. Grant's accent is an inheritance from his mother and his notable maternal ancestors, many of them belonging to the aristocracy.

Grant started his education at Hogarth Primary School in Chiswick but then moved to St Peter's Primary School in Hammersmith. From 1969 to 1978, he attended the independent Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith on a scholarship and played 1st XV rugby, cricket and football for the school. In 1979, he won the Galsworthy scholarship to New College, Oxford, where he starred in his first film, Privileged, produced by the Oxford University Film Foundation. He studied English literature and graduated with honours.