Multicultural London English

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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 Brent, Lambeth 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’’, conveying the idea of ‘‘fake Jamaican’’,[6] because of ‘‘popular belief’’ that it stems from ‘‘immigrants of Jamaican and Caribbean descent’’.[4][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 Englishes along with their indigenised London versions (Sebba 1993), local London and south-eastern vernacular varieties of English, local and international youth slang, as well as more levelled and 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 across the English speaking world. Many non-standard systems in Britain (and parts of the US Mid-Atlantic coast) use was variably for positive conjugations, and weren’t for negative conjugations (System 1 below) to make the distinction between positive and negative contexts clearer (cf. will/won't and are/ain't).[15] Most non-Standard varieties in the English speaking world have a system where both positive and negative contexts have levelled to was (System 2 below).[16] Speakers of MLE use any of the three systems, with choice correlating with ethnicity and gender.[16] Cheshire and Fox (2008) found the use of non-standard was to be most common among Black Caribbean speakers, and least common among those of Bangladeshi decent.[16] Bangladeshis were also found to use non-standard weren't the least, but this variable was used more by White British speakers than anyone else.[16]
Standard English Non-standard system 1 Non-standard system 2
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?’’.
  • 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 ‘‘man's’’ when combined with certain verbs such as ‘‘to be’’ and ‘‘to have’’: ‘‘man's got arrested’’, ‘‘man's getting emotional’’. ‘‘Man’’ can also be used to refer to the second-person singular: ‘‘Where's man going?’’ (Where are you going?)[18]

Discourse-Pragmatic Markers

  • Innit, arguably a reduction of 'isn't it' has a third discourse function in MLE, in addition to the wide-spread usage as a tag-question or a follow up as in [1] and [2] below. In MLE, innit can also mark information structure overtly, to mark a topic or to foreground new information, as in [3].[4]

[1] they was getting jealous though innit

[2] Hadiya: it weren’t like it was an accident

Bisa: innit

[3] yeah I know. I'm a lot smaller than all of them man and who were like "whoa" . I mean the sister innit she's about five times bigger than you innit Mark?



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 Cheshire et al. (2011) and Cheshire et al. (2013), contradicts that expectation:


  • fronting of /ʊ/, the vowel in FOOT: "more retracted in the outer-city borough of Havering than in Hackney" [13]
  • 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’’.[5]
  • /aɪ/-lowering across region: it is seen as a reversal of the Diphthong Shift. 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.[13][19]
  • /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] [13]
  • Backing of /æ/: This can result in variants such as [].[13]
  • Backing of /ʌ/: This results in variants such as [ɑ] or [ʌ], rather than [ɐ].[13]


  • Reversal of H-dropping - 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.[13]
  • 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][19]
  • 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.[19][5]
  • th-stopping - both voiced and voiceless interdental fricatives can be stopped, so that thing becomes ting, and that becomes dat.[5]
  • According to Geoff Lindsey, one of the most striking features of MLE is the advanced articulation of the sibilants /s, z/ as post-dental [, ].[20]


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] (Dwelling)


  • ‘‘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)
  • ‘‘Bait out’’ (to speak ill of)
  • ‘‘Cut’’ (to leave)
  • ‘‘Jerk’’ (to rob)
  • ‘‘Link’’ (to rendez-vous)

Use in popular culture

  • 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.[21]
  • The Chicken Connoisseur (Elijah Quashie), a Youtube user who rates the quality of take-aways selling chicken and chips, frequently uses MLE vocabulary.[22][23]
  • The TV show Chewing Gum (TV series) is set in Tower Hamlets and uses Multicultural London English throughout.

See also


  1. ^ "UrBEn-ID Urban British English project". 
  2. ^ University of Lancaster press release 2010.
  3. ^ BBC News 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Cheshire, Jenny; Nortier, Jacomine; Adger, David (2015). "Emerging Multiethnolects in Europe" (PDF). Queen Mary Occasional Papers in Linguistics: 4. 
  5. ^ a b c d e 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. ^ Clark, Laura (2006). "Jafaican is wiping out inner-city English accents". The Daily Mail. 
  7. ^ Braier, Rachel (2013). "Jafaican? No we're not.". The Guardian. 
  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 d e f g h 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 levelling in a vernacular English variety.". Language Variation and Change. 6: 273–302. 
  16. ^ a b c d 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 Kerswill 2007.
  18. ^ Cheshire, Jenny (2013). "Grammaticalisation in social context: The emergence of a new English pronoun". Journal of Sociolinguistics. 17 (5): 608–633 – via Wiley Online. 
  19. ^ a b c Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue; Kerswill, Paul; Torgersen, Eivind (2013). "Language contact and language change in the multicultural metropolis". Revue Française De Linguistique Appliqueé. XVIII. 
  20. ^ Lindsey 2011.
  21. ^ BBC BBC Check |url= value (help).  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^
  23. ^


  • University of Lancaster press release, "Research shows that Cockney will disappear from London's streets within a generation". 2010. 
  • BBC News, 1 July 2010 Cockney to disappear from London 'within 30 years',
  • Kerswill, Paul (2013), Identity, ethnicity and place: the construction of youth language in London.  In: Auer, Peter, Hilpert, Martin, Stukenbrock, Anja and Szmrecsanyi, Benedikt,(eds.) Space in language and linguistics. linguae and litterae . Walter de Gruyter, pp. 128–164. ISBN 978-3-11-031202-7
  • Cheshire, Jenny; Nortier, Jacomine; Adger, David (2015), Emerging multiethnolects in Europe (PDF), Queen Mary's Occasional Papers Advancing Linguistics, 33 
  • Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue; Kerswill, Paul; Torgersen, Eivind (2008), Ulrich Ammon and Mattheier, {Klaus J.}, ed., "Ethnicity, friendship network and social practices as the motor of dialect change: linguistic innovation in London" (PDF), Sociolinguistica : International Yearbook of European Sociolinguistics, Max Niemeyer Verlag, 22: 1–23, ISBN 978-3-484-60528-2 
  • "". 
  • Kerswill, Paul (2007). "Linguistic Innovators: The English of Adolescents in London: Full Research Report" (PDF). ESRC End of Award Report. 
  • Cheshire, Jenny; Kerswill, Paul; Fox, Sue; Torgersen, Eivind (2011), "Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English" (PDF), Journal of Sociolinguistics, 15 (2): 151–196 
  • Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue; Kerwill, Paul; Torgerson, Eivind (2005). "Reversing 'drift': Changes in the London diphthong system" (PDF). University of Lancaster. 
  • Lindsey, Geoff (2011). "english speech services | Accent of the Year / sibilants in MLE". Retrieved 2 December 2015. 

Further reading

  • David Sutcliffe, Black British English, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982.
  • Linguistic innovators: the English of adolescents in London, Oxford Graduate Seminar, 12 November 2007 (ppt).
  • Paul Kerswill and Eivind Torgersen, Endogenous change in inner-London teenage speech?: 'Diphthong Shift' reversal and other vowel changes [ppt].

External links

  • Emily Ashton, Learn Jafaikan in Two Minutes, The Guardian, 12 April 2006.
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