Cockney
Cockney dialect
Native toEngland
RegionLondon (Middlesex, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey)
Early forms
Latin (English alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
GlottologNone
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St Mary-le-Bow

Cockney is an accent and dialect of English, mainly spoken in London and its environs, particularly by working-class and lower middle-class Londoners. The term "Cockney" has traditionally been used to describe a person from the East End,[1][2][3] or born within earshot of Bow Bells,[4][5] although it most commonly refers to the broad variety of English native to London.[6]

Estuary English is an intermediate accent between Cockney and Received Pronunciation, also widely spoken in and around London, as well as in wider southeastern England.[7][8][9] In multicultural areas of London, the Cockney dialect is, to an extent, being replaced by Multicultural London English—a new form of speech with significant Cockney influence.

Words and phrases

Etymology of Cockney

The earliest recorded use of the term is 1362 in passus VI of William Langland's Piers Plowman, where it is used to mean "a small, misshapen egg", from Middle English coken + ey ("a cock's egg").[10] Concurrently, the mythical land of luxury Cockaigne (attested from 1305) appeared under a variety of spellings, including Cockayne, Cocknay, and Cockney, and became humorously associated with the English capital London.[11][13]

The current meaning of Cockney comes from its use among rural Englishmen (attested in 1520) as a pejorative term for effeminate town-dwellers,[15][10] from an earlier general sense (encountered in "The Reeve's Tale" of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales c. 1386) of a "cokenay" as "a child tenderly brought up" and, by extension, "an effeminate fellow" or "a milksop".[16] This may have developed from the sources above or separately, alongside such terms as "cock" and "cocker" which both have the sense of "to make a nestle-cock ... or darling of", "to indulge or pamper".[18][19] By 1600, this meaning of cockney was being particularly associated with the Bow Bells area.[4][20] In 1617, the travel writer Fynes Moryson stated in his Itinerary that "Londoners, and all within the sound of Bow Bells, are in reproach called Cockneys."[21] The same year, John Minsheu included the term in this newly restricted sense in his dictionary Ductor in Linguas.[25]

Other terms

Region

Originally, when London consisted of little more than the walled City, the term applied to all Londoners, and this lingered into the 19th century.[11] As the city grew the definitions shifted to alternatives based on more specific geography, or of dialect. The terms "East End of London" and "within the sound of Bow bells" are sometimes used interchangeably, and the bells are a symbol of East End identity. The area within earshot of the bells changes with the wind, but there is a correlation between the two geographic definitions under the typical prevailing wind conditions.

London's East End

The traditional core districts of the East End include Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Stepney, Wapping, Limehouse, Poplar, Haggerston, Aldgate, Shoreditch, the Isle of Dogs, Hackney, Hoxton, Bow and Mile End. The informal definition of the East End gradually expanded to include towns in south-west Essex such as Barking, East Ham, Leyton, Plaistow, Stratford, Wanstead, Walthamstow and West Ham as these formed part of London's growing conurbation.

Bow Bells' audible range

The church of St Mary-le-Bow is one of the oldest, largest and historically most important of the many churches in the City of London. The definition based on being born within earshot of the bells,[27] cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, reflects the early definition of the term as relating to all of London.

The audible range of the Bells is dependent on geography and wind conditions. The east is mostly low lying, a factor which combines with the strength and regularity of the prevailing wind, blowing from west-south-west for nearly three-quarters of the year,[28] to carry the sound further to the east, and more often. A 2012 study[29] showed that in the 19th century, and under typical conditions, the sound of the bells would carry as far as Clapton, Bow and Stratford in the east but only as far as Southwark to the south and Holborn in the west. An earlier study[30] suggested the sound would have carried even further. The 2012 study showed that in the modern era, noise pollution means that the bells can only be heard as far as Shoreditch. According to legend, Dick Whittington heard the bells 4.5 miles away at the Highgate Archway, in what is now north London. The studies mean that it is credible that Whittington might have heard them on one of the infrequent days that the wind blows from the south.

The church of St. Mary-le-Bow was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. Although the bells were destroyed again in 1941 in the Blitz, they had fallen silent on 13 June 1940 as part of the British anti-invasion preparations of World War II. Before they were replaced in 1961, there was a period when, by the "within earshot" definition, no "Bow Bell" Cockneys could be born.[31] The use of such a literal definition produces other problems, since the area around the church is no longer residential and the noise pollution means few are born within earshot.[32]

Dialect

Cockney speakers have a distinctive accent and dialect, and occasionally use rhyming slang. The Survey of English Dialects took a recording from a long-time resident of Hackney in the 1950s, and the BBC made another recording in 1999 which showed how the accent had changed.[33][34] One of the characteristic pronunciations of Cockney is th-fronting.

The early development of Cockney vocabulary is obscure, but appears to have been heavily influenced by Essex and related eastern dialects,[35] while borrowings from Yiddish, including kosher (originally Hebrew, via Yiddish, meaning legitimate) and stumm (/ʃtʊm/ originally German, via Yiddish, meaning mute),[36] as well as Romani, for example wonga (meaning money, from the Romani "wanga" meaning coal),[37] and cushty (Kushty) (from the Romani kushtipen, meaning good) reflect the influence of those groups on the development of the speech.

Recording from 1899 of "My Old Dutch" by Albert Chevalier, a music hall performer who based his material on life as a Cockney costermonger in Victorian London.

John Camden Hotten, in his Slang Dictionary of 1859, makes reference to "their use of a peculiar slang language" when describing the costermongers of London's East End.

Migration and evolution

A dialectological study of Leytonstone in 1964 found that the area's dialect was very similar to that recorded in Bethnal Green by Eva Sivertsen but there were still some features that distinguished Leytonstone speech from Cockney.[38]

Linguistic research conducted in the early 2010s suggests that today, certain elements of the Cockney accent are declining in usage within multicultural areas, where some traditional features of Cockney have been displaced by Multicultural London English, a multiethnolect particularly common amongst young people from diverse backgrounds.[39] Nevertheless, the glottal stop, double negatives, and the vocalisation of the dark L (and other features of Cockney speech) are among the Cockney influences on Multicultural London English, and some rhyming slang terms are still in common usage.

An influential July 2010 report by Paul Kerswill, professor of sociolinguistics at Lancaster University, Multicultural London English: the emergence, acquisition and diffusion of a new variety, predicted that the Cockney accent will disappear from London's streets within 30 years.[39] The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said that the accent, which has been around for more than 500 years, is being replaced in London by a new hybrid language. "Cockney in the East End is now transforming itself into Multicultural London English, a new, melting-pot mixture of all those people living here who learnt English as a second language", Kerswill said.[39]

A series of new and expanded towns have often had a strong influence on local speech. Many areas beyond the capital have become Cockney-speaking to a greater or lesser degree, including the new towns of Hemel Hempstead, Basildon and Harlow, and expanded towns such as Grays, Chelmsford and Southend. However, this is, except where least mixed, difficult to discern because of common features: linguistic historian and researcher of early dialects Alexander John Ellis in 1890 stated that Cockney developed owing to the influence of Essex dialect on London speech.[35]

Writing in 1981, the dialectologist Peter Wright identified the building of the Becontree estate in Dagenham as influential in the spread of Cockney dialect. This very large estate was built by the Corporation of London to house poor East Enders in a previously rural area of Essex. The residents typically kept their Cockney dialect rather than adopt an Essex dialect.[40] Wright also reports that cockney dialect spread along the main railway routes to towns in the surrounding counties as early as 1923, spreading further after World War II when many refugees left London owing to the bombing, and continuing to speak Cockney in their new homes.[41]

A more distant example where the accent stands out is Thetford in Norfolk, which tripled in size from 1957 in a deliberate attempt to attract Londoners by providing social housing funded by the London County Council.[42]

Typical features

Closing diphthongs of Cockney on a vowel chart (from Mott (2012:77)). This chart gives only a general idea of the closing diphthongs of Cockney, as they are much more variable than the realizations shown on the chart. There are also two closing diphthongs that are missing, namely /ɪi, ʊʉ/.
Closing diphthongs of Cockney on a vowel chart (from Mott (2012:77)). This chart gives only a general idea of the closing diphthongs of Cockney, as they are much more variable than the realizations shown on the chart. There are also two closing diphthongs that are missing, namely /ɪi, ʊʉ/.
Centering diphthongs of Cockney on a vowel chart (from Mott (2012:77))
Centering diphthongs of Cockney on a vowel chart (from Mott (2012:77))

By the 1980s and 1990s, most of the features mentioned above had partly spread into more general south-eastern speech, giving the accent called Estuary English; an Estuary speaker will use some but not all of the Cockney sounds.[85][86][87]

Perception

The Cockney accent has long been regarded as an indicator of low status. For example, in 1909 the Conference on the Teaching of English in London Elementary Schools issued by the London County Council, stating that "the Cockney mode of speech, with its unpleasant twang, is a modern corruption without legitimate credentials, and is unworthy of being the speech of any person in the capital city of the Empire".[88] Others defended the language variety: "The London dialect is really, especially on the South side of the Thames, a perfectly legitimate and responsible child of the old kentish tongue [...] the dialect of London North of the Thames has been shown to be one of the many varieties of the Midland or Mercian dialect, flavoured by the East Anglian variety of the same speech".[88] Since then, the Cockney accent has been more accepted as an alternative form of the English language rather than a lesser one, though the low status mark remains. In the 1950s, the only accent to be heard on the BBC (except in entertainment programmes such as The Sooty Show) was the RP of Standard English, whereas nowadays many different accents, including Cockney or accents heavily influenced by it, can be heard on the BBC.[89] In a survey of 2,000 people conducted by Coolbrands in the autumn of 2008, Cockney was voted equal fourth coolest accent in Britain with 7% of the votes, while The Queen's English was considered the coolest, with 20% of the votes.[90] Brummie was voted least popular, receiving just 2%. The Cockney accent often featured in films produced by Ealing Studios and was frequently portrayed as the typical British accent of the lower classes in movies by Walt Disney, though this was only so in London.

Spread

Studies have indicated that the heavy use of South East England accents on television and radio may be the cause of the spread of Cockney English since the 1960s.[91][92][93][94] Cockney is more and more influential and some claim that in the future many features of the accent may become standard.[95]

Scotland

Studies have indicated that working-class adolescents in areas such as Glasgow have begun to use certain aspects of Cockney and other Anglicisms in their speech.[96] infiltrating the traditional Glasgow patter.[97] For example, TH-fronting is commonly found, and typical Scottish features such as the postvocalic /r/ are reduced.[98] Research suggests the use of English speech characteristics is likely to be a result of the influence of London and South East England accents featuring heavily on television, such as the popular BBC One soap opera EastEnders.[91][92][93][94] However, such claims have been criticised.[99]

England

Certain features of cockney – Th-fronting, L-vocalisation, T-glottalisation, and the fronting of the GOAT and GOOSE vowels – have spread across the south-east of England and, to a lesser extent, to other areas of Britain.[100] However, Clive Upton has noted that these features have occurred independently in some other dialects, such as TH-fronting in Yorkshire and L-vocalisation in parts of Scotland.[101]

The term Estuary English has been used to describe London pronunciations that are slightly closer to RP than Cockney. The variety first came to public prominence in an article by David Rosewarne in the Times Educational Supplement in October 1984.[102] Rosewarne argued that it may eventually replace Received Pronunciation in the south-east. The phonetician John C. Wells collected media references to Estuary English on a website. Writing in April 2013, Wells argued that research by Joanna Przedlacka "demolished the claim that EE was a single entity sweeping the southeast. Rather, we have various sound changes emanating from working-class London speech, each spreading independently".[103]

Pearly tradition

The Pearly Kings and Queens are famous as an East End institution, but that perception is not wholly correct as they are found in other places across London, including Peckham and Penge in south London.[citation needed]

A costume associated with Cockneys is that of the pearly King or Queen, worn by London costermongers who sew thousands of pearl buttons onto their clothing in elaborate and creative patterns.
A costume associated with Cockneys is that of the pearly King or Queen, worn by London costermongers who sew thousands of pearl buttons onto their clothing in elaborate and creative patterns.

Notable Cockneys

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Use in films and series

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See also

References

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