Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, LA1 4YT, United Kingdom
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Multicultural London English: the emergence, acquisition and diffusion of a new variety

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Summary: The project examines the role of ethnic minority English in driving forward linguistic innovation in the capital on the levels of phonetics, grammar and discourse features. The key to this is to understand the nature of what we call 'Multicultural London English' (MLE), the (supposedly) ethnically neutral way of speaking which still contains many 'ethnic' features.

Key Facts

Website: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/projects/linguistics/multicultural

Funder: ESRC

Type of Activity: Academic Research - Externally Funded

Principal Investigator: Paul Kerswill

Co-investigator: Jenny Cheshire (external)

Research Associates: Sue Fox (external), Arfaan Khan (external), Eivind Torgersen

Dept/Research Groups: Linguistics and English Language, Language Variation and Linguistic Theory (LVLT)

Partner: Queen Mary, University of London

Keywords: Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Sociophonetics, English grammar, English language, English phonetics, Adolescent, Language variation and change, Syntax

Project Description

London has long been considered by linguists as a motor of change in the English language. Our ESRC-funded studies from the 90s focused on changes in the London periphery, especially Milton Keynes, Reading and (later) Ashford. Wefound 'dialect levelling', with local accents and dialects becoming less distinct by adopting a common set of pronunciationand grammatical features. Our current ESRC-funded project on the spoken English of inner-London (Hackney) and outer-London (Havering) adolescents investigates whether these 'levelling' changes indeed emanate from London. For several features, the assumption that London is the origin of these changes is unsupported. Young Londoners' speech contains only some of the levelling changes, such as the very heavy use of 'f' for the 'th' in words like 'thin' and the use of universal 'was' and'weren't', giving 'I was, you was' and 'I weren't, you weren't' - though, surprisingly, ethnic minorities use less of these. Forother features, such as the vowels of words like 'face', 'goat', 'like' and 'mouth', many use new pronunciations which, phonetically, resemble Northern English but also Caribbean and Subcontinental Englishes. Users of these in our study are almost exclusively from Hackney. There is, then, ongoing divergence between Londoners and London periphery residents. Most crucial, and the springboard for the new project, is the fact that the changes which result in divergence are led by ethnic minority speakers, particularly Afro-Caribbeans. The degree to which 'Anglos' participate in these changes is strongly related to the ethnic mix of their peer groups. Outer Londoners' more 'Cockney' speech reflects the much smaller proportion ofethnic minority people there. The project examines the role of ethnic minority English in driving forward linguistic innovation in the capital onthe levels of phonetics, grammar and discourse features. The key to this is to understand the nature of what we call 'Multicultural London English' (MLE), the (supposedly) ethnically neutral way of speaking which still contains many 'ethnic' features. Something akin to this variety was discussed, but not described in the 80s; in 2007, a blogger wrote: "In EastLondon, we have no word for it, it's simply how the youth of today speak ...". Later posts claimed various origins for it. In our data, a family member commented that a young (white) relative 'talks black'. MLE is not a uniform variety, and there is no clear boundary between it and ethnically marked forms of English, eg Bangladeshi and Afro-Caribbean. In addition to the problem of demarcation are questions about how and when children acquire it - is it from parents, or older children? - and also whether people continue to use it as adults. If the latter, the route to its permanent influence on English is clear.

Our Partners

Queen Mary, University of London

Purpose of Research

Academic Research - Externally Funded

Project Funder

ESRC - 752,342

Associated News Stories

Paul Kerswill interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland's Culture Cafe

Date: 8 November 2011

Paul was interviewed along with a Glasgow rapper Loki on the topic of youth language. ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill writes for The Sun on TOWIE

Date: 21 October 2011

Paul has written a double-spread feature on the language of The Only Way is Essex, ITV's popular reality-soap set in Brentwood. ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill gives lecture at the TEDx event 'Society Beyond Borders'

Date: 8 September 2011

Paul gave an invited lecture at the TEDxEastEnd event 'Society beyond borders' entitled 'Who's an Eastender now? Migration and the transformation of t ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill's ESRC projects reported in Daily Mail

Date: 6 June 2011

Paul Kerswill's ESRC-funded research (with colleagues in London)on Multicultural London English was reported in the Daily Mail. The context was an ong ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill inteviewed in the Sunday Times about Multicultural London English & dialect levelling

Date: 5 June 2011

Paul Kerswill and colleagues' work on Multicultural London English and dialect levelling in England was raported in the Sunday Times under the heading ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill interviewed in the Economist about the future of dialects

Date: 2 June 2011

Paul was interviewed by Alison Goddard, a journalist on the Economist, about the future of dialects in England. He also drew two maps showing his idea ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill gives an invited lecture at the Philological Society

Date: 5 November 2010

Paul will give an invitedtalk entitled "Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English" at a one-da ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill speaks at the Lancashire Society's Dialect Day, and judges performances

Date: 16 October 2010

Paul gave a lecture entitled "London's multicultural Cockney: the new voice of the nation?" to the annual Dialect Day meeting of the Lancashire Societ ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill speaks to the Sale Medical & Dental Society

Date: 15 October 2010

Paul gave an after-dinner speech entitled "London's multicultural Cockney: the new voice of the nation?" to the monthly meeting of the Sale Medical &a ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill gives invited lecture in Reykavík.

Date: 7 October 2010

Paul Kerswill is one of four invited speakers at the conference 'Nordic Language Variation: Grammatical, Sociolinguistic and Infrastructural Perspecti ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill teaches course at the University of Cape Town

Date: 16 August - 3 September 2010

Paul Kerswill is teaching six sessions on 'Language Variation' to Honours and Masters students in Linguistics at the University of Cape Town. ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill gives lecture at the University of Ghana

Date: 4 August 2010

Paul Kerswill gave a lecture entitled "Investigating new youth language varieties in Africa and in Europe: points of similarity and contrast" at a sta ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill interviewed on ABC radio, Western Australia

Date: 15 July 2010

Paul was interviewed about his and Eivind Torgersen's ESRC funded project"Multicultural London English" on the afternoon drive programme hosted by Rus ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill writes Sun column on Multicultural London English

Date: 3 July 2010

Paul Kerswill was invited by The Sun to write a piece on his ESRC-funded research on Multicultural London English. The article appeared on page 6 of t ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill interviewed on radio and television about the project 'Multicultural London English'

Date: 2 July 2010

Following publicity about the Kings Place initiative on Celebrating Cockney, Paul Kerswill was interviewed by BBC London News (BBC1), the Canadian Bro ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill involved with Kings Place Arts Centre's 'Celebrate Cockney' initiative

Date: 1 July 2010

Paul Kerswill's research project on Multicultural London English (with Eivind Torgersen and colleagues from Queen Mary, University of London) has prov ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill interviewed by Benjamin Zephaniah for Radio 4

Date: 6 December 2009

Paul Kerswill was interviewed by the poet Benjamin Zephaniah for the BBC Radio 4 programme 'Mind your Slanguage', to be broadcast at 11am on Tuesday 8 ... Read more»

Paul Kerswill interviewed by Michael Rosen for Radio 4

Date: 30 November 2009

Paul was interviewed for 'Word of Mouth' on the topic of developments in spoken English and youth language. The programme was aired at 4pm, Monday 1st ... Read more»

Multicultural London English

Date: 18 March 2009

Researchers at Lancaster and Queen Mary, University of London are working on language change in London. They are particularly interested in the Englis ... Read more»

Associated Events

LVLT talk: "An investigation of rhythm in London English" Eivind Torgersen & Anita Szakay

Date: 28 June 2010 Time: 1.00 pm

Language Variation and Linguistic Theory Research GroupMonday 28 June, 1pmPhonetics Laboratory, County South C41Eivind Torgersen (Lancaster University ... Read more»