Multicultural London English
Urban British English
Native toEngland
RegionMulticultural parts of London; variants in other cities
EthnicityVarious (see Ethnic groups in London)
Early forms
Latin (English alphabet)
SourcesVarious, including Caribbean English (in particular Jamaican Patois), African dialects of English, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Arabic, Somali and Cockney
Language codes
ISO 639-3
GlottologNone
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Multicultural London English (abbreviated MLE) is a sociolect of English that emerged in the late 20th century. It is spoken mainly by young, working-class people in multicultural parts of London.[1][2][3]

Speakers of MLE come from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and live in diverse neighbourhoods. As a result, it can be 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] Linguists have suggested that diversity of friendship groups is a contributing factor to the development of MLE; the more ethnically diverse an adolescent's friendship networks are, the more likely it is that they will speak MLE.[5]

Variants of MLE have emerged in diverse neighbourhoods of other cities, such as Birmingham and Manchester, which fuse elements of MLE with local influences.[6] This has led to some linguists referring to an overarching variety of English known as Multicultural British English (MBE), also known as Multicultural Urban British English (MUBE) or Urban British English (abbreviated UBE), which emerged from and is heavily influenced by MLE.[6][7][8]

History

MLE is rooted mostly in the widespread migration from the Caribbean to the UK following World War II, and to a lesser extent the migration from other areas such as South Asia and West Africa.[9] Distinctive Black British slang did not become widely visible until the 1970s. The popularity of Jamaican music in the UK, such as reggae and ska, led to the emergence of slang rooted in Jamaican patois being used in the UK, setting the foundation for what would later become known as MLE.[8] Research conducted in the early 1980s concluded that adolescents of Afro-Caribbean descent were 'bidialectal', switching between Jamaican creole and London English; while white working class adolescents would occasionally use creole-inspired slang, they retained their accents.[7] In 1985, Smiley Culture, a British musician of Jamaican and Guyanese heritage, released "Cockney Translator", one of the first examples of British 'white slang' and British 'black slang' appearing side-by-side on a record (however, still distinct from each other).[10][11] While Smiley Culture was commenting on how the two forms of slang were very distinct from each other and lived side-by-side, more natural fusions would become common in later years. Some hip-hop artists from the late 80s and early 90s, such as London Posse, regularly infused both cockney and patois influenced slang in their music, showcasing how elements of both were becoming very much entwined and influencing each other, reflecting how younger, working-class Londoners were speaking.[12][11] Such influences were not restricted to persons of a specific racial background. In 1987, Dick Hebdige, a British sociologist, commented that "In some parts of Britain, West Indian patois has become the public language of inner-city youths, irrespective of their racial origin".[13][10]

By the late 1990s, London was becoming increasingly multilingual, and residential segregation was less common. Young people from various ethnic backgrounds intermixed and, in Hackney at least, Cockney was no longer the majority-spoken local dialect, resulting in children of various ethnic backgrounds adopting MLE.[7] Linguist Tony Thorne noted that white working-class school kids were using "recreolised lexis". In the following decade, it would become ever more common, showcased prominently in music such as grime and British hip hop, and in films like Kidulthood.[8][14][11]

As the media became more aware of MLE in the 2000s, a variety of names emerged to describe it such as "Nang slang", "Blinglish", "Tikkiny", or "Blockney".[15][16][17][18] MLE is sometimes referred to as "Jafaican" (or "Jafaikan"), conveying the idea of "fake Jamaican", because of popular belief that it stems solely from immigrants of Jamaican and Caribbean descent.[4][19] However, research suggests that the roots of MLE are more varied: two Economic and Social Research Council funded research projects[20][21] found that MLE has most likely developed as a result of language contact and group second language acquisition.[22] 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, 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."[23][24]

According to research conducted at Lancaster University and Queen Mary University of London in 2010, "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."[25][26]

With the worldwide growth of grime and UK drill from the mid-2010s onwards, elements of MLE began to spread internationally along with the genres. Some Australian, Canadian, Dutch, and Irish musicians, such as Onefour, Drake, and 73 De Pijp, for example, have been noted for using slang derivatives of MLE.[27][28] Kate Burridge and Howard Manns, both Australian linguists, also noted that some MLE phrases (such as 'peng', meaning attractive or good) were being used generally by Australian youth.[29] Similar influences have also been noted in Finnish teenagers.[30]

It has been noted that in other countries, such as Canada, Multicultural Toronto English has developed very strong similarities derived from MLE, which arose independently but with similar cultural influences and origin roots.[31][32][33] A Canadian linguist, Derek Denis, has been noting MTE for some of the MLE phrases (such as "mans", meaning a group of guys, "wasteman", meaning someone's a waste of space or a loser, and “yute”, a slang term of Jamaican origin for “youth”, used to refer to a young adult or child), which were commonly used by Torontonian youths.[34][35]

Grammar

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

Discourse-pragmatic markers

[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?
this is my mum's boyfriend "put that in your pocket now".

Phonology

While older speakers in London today display a vowel and consonant system that matches previously dominant accents such as Cockney, young speakers often display 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. From principles of levelling, it would be expected that younger speakers would show precisely the 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.

Vowels

Consonants

Vocabulary

Examples of vocabulary common in Multicultural London English include:

Adjectives

Interjections

Pronouns

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Nouns

Verbs

In popular culture

See also

Citations

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References

Further reading