Saturday, 7 October 2017

Is the sound of Multicultural London English changing? Accentuating the positive...

Entering a local newsagent's about ten years ago, I was appalled to hear two behooded, suspiciously middle class-looking teenage boys noisily addressing each other in the ugly, aggressive, clipped tones more usually associated with members of semi-feral, multi-ethnic, working class yoof gangs - I began to think of it as "Innitspeak", because practically every utterance seemed to end with the ejaculation, "innit!".  After that, I became conscious of it all around me. I felt a pang of regret for what the writer Pat Barker called the"parrot cheeriness" of traditional Cockney, which Innitspeak - known for a while as Jafaican - seemed to be supplanting, as white working-class Londoners continued to flee the capital. I wouldn't have minded so much if what was replacing Cockney hadn't sounded so unattractive and so deliberately unfriendly. But it seems I may have been too pessimistic...

A young adult of my acquaintance, who travels around London all the time, recently remarked to me out of the blue that Multicultural London English (a multiethnolect, apparently) had noticeably softened in recent years, and that ethnically diverse Londoners now mostly tended to sound a bit like like Harry Enfield's 1980s Greek-Cypriot character, Stavros:

I mulled this observation over for a bit - and concluded that there might be some truth in it. Perhaps it's because I don't get out much these days, or because I positively avoid the sort of television dramas and current affairs programmes which explore current inner city social problems (which all seem to be my fault, somehow) - but, based on what I do see on TV, and on my expeditions to various hospitals and the local high street, the tone of MLE (to use the official acronym) seems gentler, less strident, less deliberately unattractive. 

If I'm right, why is this happening? My informant suggested that it might partly be because the more aggressive form of MLE is no longer seen as cool or edgy - just the opposite, in fact. I imagine it's also because, now that London has essentially become a city of immigrants, the idea of MLE as a sort of exclusive gangsta argot for adolescent street gangs seems ridiculous: it's now the language with which - and the accent in which - many Londoners of all ages and from a bewildering array of ethnic backgrounds communicate. And the vast majority of them won't harbour the slightest desire to sound like teenage thugs. 

Who knows, if this trend continues, MLE-speakers might end up sounding less like Stavros and more like this: 



  1. At what point in the multiculturalist enterprise will someone point out that there are too many English people in England?

    1. ...not to mention too many heterosexuals, Christians and conservatives.