December 9, 2023


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Cockney and Royal English accents no longer dominate London

Cockney and Royal English accents no longer dominate London

Three more accents will be London’s defining voices by 2023, new research has revealed.

Have a butcher, people don’t seem to mind their Ps and Qs. Researchers at the University of Essex have discovered that two popular accents in southern England have all but disappeared.

Cockney and the acquired accent have long been the most distinctive voices of London and south-east England. For those who don’t know, Cockney is a generic term for people from East London. It’s been said that you can’t be a true Cockney unless you live within earshot of the Will Bells and St Mary-le-Po church in Whitechapel.

Although known for its pronunciation, Cockney dialect is synonymous with Cockney rhyming slang. Some words, such as “wonga” for “money”, originate from Roma and Jewish immigrant communities. Other words come from unique rhyming associations. “Marvin” meaning “hungry” named after British musician Hank Marvin; “Dog” means “telephone” because it sounds like “dog and bone”, while “pams” means “stairs” from “apples and pairs”.

The resulting pronunciation, often known as Queen’s English – formerly and more recently King’s English – has been spoken by many of the upper classes of the United Kingdom for generations. Notably, RB was the register adopted by BBC presenters and actors in the early days of radio and television.

However, according to a new study, these two pronunciations are almost completely backwards. After researchers Dr Amanda Cole and Dr Patrycja Strycharczuk recorded the voices of 193 people aged 19 to 33 from the original RP and Cockney regions, they found three distinct main accents.

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The largest group speaks Standard Southern British English. Less than half (49%) spoke with the SSBE accent, a somewhat softened version of the older RP accent. The study found that SSBE speakers were more likely to be white and female. As an example, Cole cites singer Ellie Goulding’s speaking voice.

The second group is Estuary English. Spoken by 26% of those surveyed, Estuary English is an evolution of Cockney. The accent is still found in East London and in the south-east of Essex County. An example of typical Estuary English is Adele’s soft tone.

Interestingly, both SSBE and Estuary English fall somewhere between RP and Cockney. Two very distinct accents came together to find a unique common ground. Cole writes that this may be due to increased interaction between groups and social pressures to speak in the “correct” way.

The final major group is London Multicultural English, spoken by about 25% of the sample. It is primarily spoken by a growing group from London and by Asian British and Black British people. Soccer player Bugayo Saga is an example of a multicultural English speaker from London.