Yesterday’s was a lunch-time lecture by Paul Kerswill on the subject of Multicultural London English (this blog, 02 July 2010, 25 Mar 2008 and 16 Nov 2006). I am gratified to say that the event was sold out, but less happy to report that many people had to be turned away.
In his lecture, richly illustrated by sound clips, Paul showed how traditional Cockney, once upon a time centred on inner eastern areas of London such as Bethnal Green, has now moved out to the outer suburbs (his team had studied Havering, on the Essex borders). In inner areas (his team had studied Hackney) the incomers who replaced the white working class had in many cases more than one variety in their repertoire, being able to switch, for example, between Cockney and Jamaican.
(We can illustrate this with the 1984 hit Cockney Translation by the late Smiley Culture, sung in Jamaican Creole but explaining words and usages from Cockney — as Paul pointed out, with no reference at all to Standard English.)
me come to teach you right and not the wrong
ina di Cockney Translation
Cockney’s not a language, it is only a slang
an was originated yaso [= here] ina Englan’…
For today’s teenagers, though, this has given way to a new local multiethnic speech variety shared by adolescents of all different ethnic origins. It is sometimes referred to as ‘Jafaican’, though Paul’s team prefer their term Multicultural London English.
To illustrate the point, Paul played us sound clips of four Hackney adolescents talking, and challenged us to guess the ethnicity of the speakers. They did indeed all sound much the same. Yet one was self-described as Bengali, one as White British, one as Black British Caribbean, and one as Turkish. (I did get two out of four correct, but that may just have been by lucky chance.)
We can illustrate this new variety by this clip of Dizzee Rascal being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman just after Obama’s election. You can hear all sorts of ‘Cockney’ features in his speech (t glottalling, l vocalization and so on) but also plenty of features foreign to traditional Cockney (unshifted FACE and PRICE diphthongs,‘man’).
And he has great answers to Paxman’s condescending and supercilious questions.
Do you believe in political parties?_ _ _
Do you feel yourself to be British?
I have handed over to Paul Kerswill the original tapes of the interviews I conducted with Jamaicans in London in 1969-70 for my PhD work. If the recordings are still playable after sitting in a drawer for forty years the BL will help digitize them so that they can be properly archived.