London English: Regional Accents in London
London is a multi cultural city with a huge variety of nationalities represented and living side by side, resulting in a wonderful and interesting blend of accents that not only differ hugely from one area of town to another but are also constantly evolving and mutating. Traditionally, native Londoners spoke with clear accent distinctions depending on the district they were from. Indeed, it has been said that up until just forty years ago, Londoners could pinpoint exactly what area others were from, based purely on their accents.
The accent most commonly associated with London is 'Cockney'. Historically, the term Cockney was a derogatory term linked to lower class town dwellers in East London and to be a true Cockney you had to have been born within hearing distance of the bells at Bow Church in E1. However, through years of migration, the cockney accent has expanded from this area and can now be found in areas of North and South London and as far out as the counties of Essex and Kent. In fact, the use of Cockney English has declined within the areas it originated in due to the influx in Caribbean community. Cultural references for recognisable Cockneys include the 'Pearly Kings and Queens of Lambeth'.
The Cockney accent is quite unique and enjoyable to hear once you can follow it. The first noticeable difference is the lack of pronunciation of the letter T which is known technically as a glottal stop. Words such as water will be pronounced 'war-are'. The letter H is dropped so Hall will be pronounced 'all'. Another quirk is the replacing of 'th' with 'f' which produces words such as three or thank you to sound like 'free' and 'fank you'. Similarly, a 'th' sound is often replaced with a 'v', for example brother will become 'bruvver'.
The most famous feature of the cockney vernacular is Cockney Rhyming Slang. It remains a mystery whether CRS originates from a game, an accident or a kind of code where only those who could understand the slang would comprehend what was being said. It is constructed by rhyming a word with a pair of words and then usually omitting the second of the pair: Stairs is signified by 'Apples and Pears' which is shortened to 'Apples', for example, 'coming down the apples.' Some rhyming slang has insinuated itself into common dialect, including 'Barnet', from Barnet Fair, meaning 'hair' and 'have a butchers', from butcher's hook- meaning 'look'.
Cockney also takes influence from other cultures in its slang vocabulary including examples such as 'Kosher' from Hebrew/Yiddish, meaning genuine, 'Shtumm', from German/Yiddish, meaning quiet and 'Cushty' from the Romany word Kushtipen, meaning good.
Received Pronunciation, or the 'Queen's English' is considered the benchmark for correct and standard pronunciation of the English language, however it is very uncommon today, even of a person considered to be quite well spoken- full use of RP sounds unnaturally formal. RP is characterised by clear articulation of consonants and long As, for example bath is pronounced 'bahth'. Because it's pronounced so clearly, it's often referred to as 'BBC English'.
Estuary English is the name of the accent historically spoken along the Thames estuary and these days, ever more commonly throughout the entire South East of England. It draws characteristics from both RP and Cockney accents.
Increasingly, accents and slang from other cultures have started to have an effect on the way Londoners speak, for example the proliferation of 'Jafaican', a mixture of Caribbean, West Africa and South Asia which is very common since the late 20th Century, particularly among young people in Central and West London. It is contentious whether youngsters put on the affectations of multi-cultural patois to appear 'cool' or whether it's simply a natural evolution of the language, reflecting the environment.
Interestingly enough, in 2008, a survey on the 'coolest' accents in Britain was undertaken and Cockney came in at a respectable fourth place although the winner was the 'Queen's English' with 20% of the votes.