D'ya get me, bruv?
July 28, 2015 3:05 PM   Subscribe

A new London accent strikingly different from Cockney has emerged in the last few years. Linguists call it "Multicultural London English" (or MLE) and although it has obvious roots in the London black community it's now displacing Cockney to become a universal accent for working class London youth, regardless of race. Change is spreading so fast that London teens often have radically different accents from their own parents.

The traditional working class London accent, Cockney, is thought to date from at least the time of Chaucer. During the 20th century, Cockney spread so far from London that linguists started to talk about "Estuary English" because, like the Thames estuary, it flowed all the way through the south east of the country.
MLE has emerged from the London melting pot this century. It's an intriguing blend of Cockney, Caribbean patois, and elements of South Asian speech, with its own distinctive slang terms like "nang", "mandem" and "peng".
Early on, the media tried to dismiss this new accent with labels like "Jafaican" (because of the obvious Jamaican influence) or "Chavish".
To add to the confusion, when Ali G first used an early form of MLE on TV just after the millennium it was as a parody of suburban white or asian kids trying too hard to be black, and he would even ask interviewees who rejected him, "Is it cos I is black?".
However, these days, MLE is not seen as an ethnic accent, or an affectation, it's just the way London kids talk, with some experts saying that MLE is gaining momentum so fast that Cockney will die out by 2040.

A sign of the times is the recent big-budget movie "Kingsman:The Secret Service". The hero, Eggsy, has a clear MLE accent totally different from his on-screen mum and step-dad. He was played by Taron Egerton who, being Welsh, had to go to great lengths to learn the accent.
posted by w0mbat (71 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
 
The misuse of the word 'bare' by "the youth" disappoints me greatly.
posted by metaxa at 3:06 PM on July 28, 2015


Was this what I heard in Attack The Block?
posted by Cosine at 3:12 PM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Haven't seen any of those movies, but is this the accent from The Streets's A Grand Don't Come For Free?
posted by infinitewindow at 3:15 PM on July 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


The misuse of the word 'bare' by "the youth" disappoints me greatly.

Years ago, I worked with an older colleague who moaned about words like "trialing". All I can say is that change is as inevitable as death. No point in pining for the past.
posted by greenhornet at 3:16 PM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've noticed the accent in pop culture from Ali G & Scroobius Pip
posted by djseafood at 3:25 PM on July 28, 2015


I thought children usually have the accents of peers (lateral transmission). Is that different in the UK, or is mobility /immigration much lower than in the US, making this more noticeable?
posted by gregglind at 3:30 PM on July 28, 2015


Was this what I heard in Attack The Block?

correct.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:40 PM on July 28, 2015


unless you mean the alien screeching because that is not the thing
posted by poffin boffin at 3:40 PM on July 28, 2015 [42 favorites]


I've always thought white kids speaking with this accent sounded rather affected.
posted by Flashman at 3:48 PM on July 28, 2015


They still sound more intelligent than Americans.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:53 PM on July 28, 2015


Metafilter: They still sound more intelligent than Americans.
posted by Fleebnork at 4:00 PM on July 28, 2015 [14 favorites]


unless you mean the alien screeching

That was scouse.
posted by sobarel at 4:05 PM on July 28, 2015 [56 favorites]


I've always thought white kids speaking with this accent sounded rather affected.

Well, you're entitled to your opinion but as the Wikipedia article sez:
Although the colloquial name "Jafaican" implies that it is "fake" or pseudo-Jamaican, some researchers indicate that it is not the language of white youth trying to imitate black, but rather that "[it is] more likely that young people have been growing up in London exposed to a mixture of second-language English and local London English and that this new variety has emerged from that mix.
So, not an affectation, although it may seem that way if one has the (very common) misperception that language goes strictly from parent to child rather than peer to peer.
posted by No-sword at 4:07 PM on July 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


My favorite version of this was from"Negative One" in the Coundown episode of The It Crowd. Though it was pretty clearly meant to be an affectation in his case.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:36 PM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is this Skepta's accent?
posted by gucci mane at 4:48 PM on July 28, 2015


Quick, let's get some middle-class middle-aged white guys to talk about it on couches!
posted by Drexen at 4:57 PM on July 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


How do you say "Battlestar Gallactica" in an MLE accent?
posted by The World Famous at 5:01 PM on July 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Here's a mix of 2015 grime music.
Check out Top Boy if you can find it!
Shadrack and the Mandem front, chat about guns n' pork, drop bodies cos they're on dis ting.
posted by Drexen at 5:11 PM on July 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh yeah, and Garnet i.e. Estelle talks in 'MLE'!
posted by Drexen at 5:17 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Good lord, kids these days are no longer dropping their haitches! What's the world coming to??
posted by languagehat at 5:19 PM on July 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


There's poetry to be found in every dialect, and I look forward to reading the poems of MLE Dickinson.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:21 PM on July 28, 2015 [33 favorites]


Also there's sum1 sittin on the wall u kno. It's.. some different mandem.
posted by Drexen at 5:23 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Speaking of grime, obviously there's this classic. That one got some play in the US, right?
posted by Drexen at 5:28 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought children usually have the accents of peers (lateral transmission). Is that different in the UK, or is mobility /immigration much lower than in the US, making this more noticeable?


That's exactly what's happening in this case-- you have a nice melting pot of immigrants, speaking a variety of Englishes that have been influenced by a lot of different accents, all of which contribute to this dialect. The "native" Cockney accent is also a part of it, but its speakers are obviously not present enough in numbers/social cache for it to be the dominant dialect that the kids are converging to.

It's basically koineization.
posted by damayanti at 5:31 PM on July 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


So the new accent sounds like Barry Shitpeas?
posted by Catblack at 5:32 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Haven't seen any of those movies, but is this the accent from The Streets's A Grand Don't Come For Free?


No, The Streets is a weird mixed up Estuary / Midlands accent. Mike Skinner is from Birmingham.

Attack The Block is pretty much the canonical example of MLE. I would have featured it in the main post, but I went for a more recent better-known film instead.
posted by w0mbat at 5:33 PM on July 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I only know this accent from films, but I like the way it sounds and it is fun to try and identify where pieces come from.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:40 PM on July 28, 2015


Barry Shitpeas is modern suburbanized Cockney. He's way too old and middle of the road for MLE.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:40 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


in general it reminds me a lot of the les/abc accent of my childhood in which a speaker's tone and cadence and accent would fluctuate between les yiddish and abc nuyorican.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:02 PM on July 28, 2015


How do you say "Battlestar Gallactica" in an MLE accent?

Well done, you have found the "Rural Juror" of MLE!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:06 PM on July 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


Wikipedia says that the MLE first-person personal pronoun is Man [mæn] . An equivalent in 19th century London thieves' cant was mynabs. Survival or convergence?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:27 PM on July 28, 2015


How do you say "Battlestar Gallactica" in an MLE accent?

I think the answer is something like "ba'lsTA g'LAK!a". But that's just my projection; I haven't actually heard anyone with MLE say that phrase.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:30 PM on July 28, 2015


last few year = couple of decades, innit.
posted by Artw at 6:34 PM on July 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Battiestar Latke.
posted by motty at 6:36 PM on July 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Battlestar Gallactica was so much easier in Cockney, where it was pronounced John Wayne.
posted by maxsparber at 6:37 PM on July 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Because he was a cattle star.
posted by maxsparber at 6:37 PM on July 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


The World Famous is tawkin bout dis owd fred, innit.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:39 PM on July 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Am I bovvered?
posted by mmoncur at 7:25 PM on July 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


But oh my brothers, this is a gloopy starry veshch of an article. My droogies in London all tell me the lewdies govoreet Nadsat.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:44 PM on July 28, 2015 [10 favorites]



How do you say "Battlestar Gallactica" in an MLE accent?


Thank you - that is one of my favorite AskMe responses ever.
posted by klausman at 8:00 PM on July 28, 2015


Interesting post! I live and work in a decent-sized conurbation in the (soft) South, although not within Estuary English's reach. I don't think I or my fellow citizens would consider ourselves particularly provincial, but I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I've heard this particular British accent in the wild locally. Always from the mouths of younger white males though, which seems to my near-virgin ears to carry a sense of artifice with it and speaks to my unconscious prejudices, I guess. (Being late Gen-X I like to imagine I can smell a tryhard at a hundred yards, whatever the facts of the matter). Accents being what they are, I can't imagine anyone not naturally picking up the speech patterns of those around them.

(Also worth reiterating that Attack The Block is great and it's worth hunting down what Joe Cornish has had to say about researching/making it. Kermode's podcast had a v. solid interview as I recall).
posted by comealongpole at 8:12 PM on July 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


No, The Streets is a weird mixed up Estuary / Midlands accent. Mike Skinner is from Birmingham.

Not weird really, because that's the accent that people of his generation speak on the, err, streets. [Looks up Mike Skinner on Wikipedia, finds out he went to the school nearest my house growing up, and more middle class than the one I went to.]

Nowadays I certainly hear more influences from MLE than estuary in Brummie English. I actually have more to do with MLE speakers from London than the West Midlands. The class difference is much more whether teenagers code switch between standard English and MLE than whether they speak MLE amongst themselves, I've found.
posted by ambrosen at 12:14 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I moved to West London in 2006, and by that point it was fully entrenched in our neighbourhood. I was able to gauge gentrification by how it began to fade away. (Of course I was adding my own Broadcast US accent to the mix, so I'm unavoidably part of that.)

But in the past five years or so it seems to have gained enough momentum to be a less clear-cut class signifier. It reminds me of how certain street-tough Bronx dialect became a flag waved by a generation of US kids who listened to hip hop.

When I moved even further out West because holy shit London property market how did you do that I noticed that it was all the teenage school kids speaking MLE amongst themselves, but quickly dropping it when speaking to an adult figure of authority.

(On preview, yes, exactly what ambrosen said: it's now a dialect that gets code-switched into and out of, rather than a fixed class/cultural signifier. Even the accent is getting gentrified!)
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:28 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


This seems overstated (although on the other hand I'm surprised it hasn't been described in the popular press as a 'new language').

It seems to be largely a matter of novel vocabulary. It's absurd to suggest that regularisation of the verb "to be" so that "was" becomes universal for all conjugations is a grammatical novelty; cockneys was always prone to that. I would guess that most of the novel phonetics is actually attached to the novel vocab.

Cockney does change a bit. People no longer swap 'v' and 'w' like Sam Weller, and instead of dropping 'h' they replace 'l' with a 'w'. The glo'aw stop continues its hegemony for now. But basically cockney still sounds like cockney to me.

That said, the acquisition of new vocabulary from other ethnic groups is pleasing evidence of the good integration and generally enlightened attitude on the ground which I've generally observed, and counter-evidence to some middle-class folk who consider all East Enders covert BNP supporters.
posted by Segundus at 1:45 AM on July 29, 2015


I don't think I or my fellow citizens would consider ourselves particularly provincial, but I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I've heard this particular British accent in the wild locally.

From personal experience, it was becoming fairly common in Plymouth at least a decade or so ago.

it's now a dialect that gets code-switched into and out of,

Also something I've noticed in Plymouth, people going from MLE to frex posh boy public school accent at the drop of an hat.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:52 AM on July 29, 2015


If you fancy some fantastic music with a distinct MLE tinge, I can recommend the spoken word poet and rapper Kate Tempest, from Brockley in South East London.

I lived in London for six years and I quite enjoyed the distinct London 'yoot' accent. It's an incredibly expressive dialect and whenever I'm back in the city and I hear someone shout 'oh my dayz' at the back of a bus I get a little tinge of reverse-homesickness.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:54 AM on July 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't understand Cockney most of the time, and sadly, MLE appears to be a _little less_ unintelligible for me; so the song Beigeness was understandable in some parts, but it lost me in the pace. Song is quite catchy though; started catching the lyrics on a second hearing.

But holy shit, Kate Tempest is talented! Her beat poetry on Shakespeare is quite something; haven't heard anything quite like it in a while. Quite partial to Marshall Law too; some great story-telling there.

All in all, a fascinating insight for me into how MLE is different from Cockney; I can now see why people say it borrows from RP, Cockney, Jamaican patois and other dialects, combining into a whole new self.
posted by the cydonian at 2:34 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


re Kate Tempest: Lonely Daze is also a good illustration.

Also something I've noticed in Plymouth, people going from MLE to frex posh boy public school accent at the drop of an hat.

Of course, RP is on the move too. It is a long time since we sounded like the voiceover guy on MovieTone or spoke Queen's English like the Queen (unless one is her).

This British Accents page provides some nice links on YT to speakers of each one (but not to MLE)
posted by rongorongo at 3:23 AM on July 29, 2015


It seems to be largely a matter of novel vocabulary.

No, it really isn't. It is a vastly different accent.

Also something I've noticed in Plymouth, people going from MLE to frex posh boy public school accent at the drop of an hat.

The ability to switch accents at will and depending on context has always been a signifier of class mobility in the UK. It's a standard skill for those who have moved from the working class to the middle class, for example. The only equivalent I've experienced directly in the US is cultural Jamaicans who switch from Patois to Standard English depending on the audience. I don't have exposure to other examples in the US so I don't know if the Jamaica-UK connection is relevant there.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:59 AM on July 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I can't access youtube at work, so apologies if it's already been posted, but don't miss this short piece by Alistair McGowan, posted in a previous thread here.
posted by Acey at 4:52 AM on July 29, 2015


Good lord, kids these days are no longer dropping their haitches! What's the world coming to??

Allow it. This change is more interesting than the dismissiveness suggests. The delta between Cockney and English-across-the-UK was much less than it is between MLE and UK-English. There have always been pockets of impenetrability (hell, I speak Glasgwegian), but for London to become one of them is hugely interesting to observe. It's not long; it's as if polari became commonplace.
posted by bonaldi at 5:01 AM on July 29, 2015


Is this what's going on in M.I.A.'s Galang?
posted by heatherann at 5:18 AM on July 29, 2015


Turns out Dick Van Dyke was way ahead of his time in "Mary Poppins". That wasn't bad Cockney, but proto MLE.
posted by jetsetsc at 7:47 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, are penguins peng?
posted by King Sky Prawn at 8:12 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Good lord, kids these days are no longer dropping their haitches! What's the world coming to??

Allow it. This change is more interesting than the dismissiveness suggests.


Good lord, I wasn't being dismissive, just a little jokey! I thought it was self-evident that this was a fascinating development.
posted by languagehat at 8:13 AM on July 29, 2015


The thing is though that 'Cockney' is a particular something that people have strong views about in London, whether they would see themselves as Cockney or not. I live in south east London, whose inhabitants strongly feel that they are not Cockney. The old accent around here might not be distinguishable from Cockney unless you had a practised ear, but is different. So I think of these as 'the old London accents' and 'the new London accents'. I don't think this is overstated at all - the two really are quite different.

Though the new accent has been happening amongst, let's say, under 21s for the whole time I've been living in London - so since 1994 - I find it's still rare to hear it from anyone older than their mid-twenties. I wonder whether this is because as you leave education your peer group starts to include older people with the older accent and so the differences get smoothed over. I will say that I was mildly surprised when I heard someone speaking MLE last week in a shop and I turned round and it was a red-haired man in about his 30s who seemed to have a position of some authority in the shop.

Here's an example (and another opportunity to shoehorn my beloved Charlton Athletic into a conversation):

Captain Johnnie Jackson was born in 1982, brought up in central/northish London and talks like this, with one of the old London accents.

Last year's player of the year Jordan Cousins was born in 1994, brought up in south east London, and talks like this, with one of the new London accents.
posted by calico at 8:23 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, and like Artw says above and like I suggest in my comment - it is decades, not a couple of years, that this has been happening. It was really noticeable for a while that EastEnders still had everyone of every ethnicity talking like the Artful Dodger when real London kids sounded little like that. Meanwhile, because of the spread of Estuary, kids from Essex/Kent increasingly do.
posted by calico at 8:38 AM on July 29, 2015


My brother has talked more or less like this for the duration of his teen and adult life. Nobody else in the family talks like him.

I blame rave culture and pirate radio.
posted by Artw at 8:45 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry, that should be "me bruv".
posted by Artw at 8:46 AM on July 29, 2015


got ya, blud
posted by calico at 8:49 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't even do it! I'm a rubbish mimic - that should be 'I get you, blud'
posted by calico at 8:52 AM on July 29, 2015


I am from Islington, London, and all the kids at school spoke like this from the early 80s.
posted by colie at 9:40 AM on July 29, 2015


Some say grime's getting a bit long in the tooth so here's something a bit more new:

Foreign Beggars

Make Those Move
No Holds Barred
Contact
Broka Billy

Also someone mentioned Skepta and yeah, his accent is 'MLE'. M.I.A.'s Galang is.. kinda like that? But she has kind of an idiosyncratic, posher (almost 'rah'/Chelsea) plus also slightly American accent so it's a bit of an odd case.
posted by Drexen at 9:41 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


By the way here's an interview with Skepta and the.. just plain goddam weird Tim Westwood, white bishop's son and UK hip-hop institution (with the hybrid accent to match) who has a weirdly solid cachet in the scene despite appearing to be basically 100% fake? I don't know what's up with him. David Cameron hates him so he's got that going for him.
posted by Drexen at 9:46 AM on July 29, 2015


The other thing that occurs to me is that whenever this is written about, a magpie's eye draws the writers to the shiny new vocab. Just sitting on the bus, getting from a-b, I honestly don't hear peng or nang or mandem that often (though 'oh my days' or 'oh my stars' a lot and really when I was saying above this has been happening for a long time I should have said it's been happening 'since time') but you really do hear the different music that younger Londoners' voices make.
posted by calico at 9:46 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


What's the video from, and who's that guy with the amazing knack for accents? The YouTube page is (unsurprisingly) completely stripped of any attribution or credit.
posted by Lexica at 8:33 PM on July 29, 2015


It's a clip from BBC's The One Show, and the guy is impressionist Alistair McGowan, who used to do voices for Spitting Image, among other things.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 12:34 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


A friend who was teaching at Harrow about 10 years ago reported that the posh kids there all spoke like Ali G.
posted by Mocata at 3:59 AM on July 30, 2015


English young poshos use the gangsta language but not so much the accent. So you'd hear stuff like 'yah, she's a top spec bitch yah' at Harrow or Eton.
posted by colie at 8:24 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


An interesting article about the rapid loss of the Southern (US) accent in Raleigh, NC that reaches the same conclusions - an influx of Northerners and their children in the 1960s (driven by the construction of a huge research park) caused children in the city to lose their accents due to peer influence.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:34 AM on July 30, 2015


I basically only know this accent from grime and D&B mixes, but selfishly I'm glad that it seems to be taking over because I think it sounds cool as fuck!
posted by en forme de poire at 1:35 PM on August 2, 2015


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