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Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, LA1 4YT, United Kingdom
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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.


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