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Present day Cockney speakers more likely to live in Essex than the East End of London

The term Cockney is now irrelevant to many people who live in the innermost suburbs of the east end of London, according to a linguistic expert.

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Photo by Gerry Knight - Flickr
Photo by Gerry Knight - Flickr

Instead, a new variety of Cockney (Multicultural London English) has developed in the east end  - as spoken by the likes of rapper Dizzee Rascal - while more traditional sounding speakers have migrated to Essex and include cast members of TOWIE and TV celebrity Stacey Solomon.

Dr Sue Fox, a linguistic expert from Queen Mary, University of London has revealed that features of the traditional Cockney dialect are more likely to be heard in Basildon or Barking than within the ‘Sound of Bow Bells’ or modern day Tower Hamlets - where it originated.

“In the last five decades ‘Cockney’ has probably undergone more rapid change than at any time in its long history.  Without doubt the speech forms associated with Cockney can still be heard, but with the multi-cultural diversity we now see in the east end the Cockney label would seem to be becoming less and less relevant to the people living there,” Dr Fox commented.

Since the 1950s a vast number of the white working class families, which predominated in the east end in the early part of the 20th century, have moved into other parts of the country such as Essex, which were once rural but have now been urbanized and are now filled with ‘Eastenders’ and their descendants.

Dr Sue Fox added: “The sheer number of people who have moved from the traditional east end into the surrounding areas of London, and in particular Essex, have ensured that the influence of Cockney is still exerted in these areas and it is there that many features of the dialect can still be heard. 

“It is probably more accurate to say that Cockney has now become more synonymous with white working class speakers from a much larger geographical region of south east England and is not generally a term applied to speakers of minority ethnic backgrounds even if they have been born within the traditional Cockney area.

“The Bangladeshi community now makes up over a third of the population the  borough of Tower Hamlets in the east end and the vast majority of people in this area now speak what we have labeled as Multicultural London English.  They don’t identify with being Cockney and this new term is more reflective of the current population," Dr Fox concluded.

Dr Fox, a research fellow at Queen Mary’s Department of Linguistics, was speaking on the history of the language as part of the Cockney Heritage Festival on 25 July. She has carried out extensive research which traces the development of Cockney speech from its earliest form to current day usages and has also contributed a chapter on Cockney in a new book Historical Linguistics of English.

A podcast of Dr Fox talking in more detail about the developments of Cockney speech is available here. If you have trouble hearing the podcast you can also link to it via soundcloud. 

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