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Multicultural London English

Sociolect of English in the United Kingdom

Multicultural London English (abbreviated MLE, also known as Urban British English or UBE) is a sociolect of English that emerged in the late twentieth century. It is spoken authentically by mainly young working class people in London (although it is also widely spoken in other cities around the UK as well). According to research conducted at Lancaster University and Queen Mary University of London in 2010, "In much of the East End of London the Cockney dialect... will have disappeared within another generation.... it will be gone [from the East End] within 30 years.... It has been 'transplanted' to... [Essex and Hertfordshire New] towns."

As the label suggests, speakers of MLE come from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and live in diverse inner-city neighbourhoods such as Brent, Lambeth and Hackney. As a result, it can be regarded as a multiethnolect. One study was unable "to isolate distinct (discrete) ethnic styles" in their data on phonetics and quotatives in Hackney and commented that the "differences between ethnicities, where they exist, are quantitative in nature". In fact, they find that it is diversity of friendship groups that is most important; the more ethnically diverse an adolescent's friendship networks are, the more likely it is that they will speak MLE.


MLE is rooted in the widespread migration from the Caribbean to the UK following World War II, as well as migration from other areas such as India and West Africa. Distinctive Black British slang did not become widely visible until the 1970s (prior to this, influences from African-American slang were slipping into the British lexicon, but they were not home-grown). The popularity of Jamaican music in the UK, such as reggae and ska, led to the emergence of slang rooted in Jamaican patois being used in the UK, setting the foundation for what would later become known as MLE. Research conducted in the early 1980s concluded that adolescents of Afro-Caribbean descent were 'bidialectal', switching between Jamaican creole and London English, while white working class adolescents would sometimes use creole words, they largely spoke cockney at home. In 1985, Smiley Culture, a British musician of Jamaican and Guyanese heritage, released "Cockney Translation", one of the first examples of British 'white slang' and British 'black slang' appearing side-by-side on a record (however, still distinct from each other). While Smiley Culture was commenting on how the two forms of slang were very distinct from each other and lived side-by-side, more natural fusions would become common in later years. Some hip-hop artists from the late 80s and early 90s, such as London Posse, regularly infused both cockney and patois influenced slang in their music, showcasing how elements of both were becoming very much entwined and influencing each other, reflecting how younger, working-class Londoners were speaking. Such influences were not restricted to persons of a specific racial background. In 1987, Dick Hebdige, a British sociologist, commented that "In some parts of Britain, West Indian patois has become the public language of inner-city youths, irrespective of their racial origin".

By the late 1990s, London was becoming increasingly more multilingual, and residential segregation was less common. Young people from various ethnic backgrounds intermixed and, in Hackney at least, Cockney was no longer the majority-spoken local dialect, resulting in children of various ethnic backgrounds adopting MLE. Linguist Tony Thorne noted that white working-class school kids were using "recreolised lexis". In the following decade, it would become ever more common, showcased prominently in music such as grime and British hip hop, and in films like Kidulthood.

As the media became more aware of MLE in the 2000s, a variety of names emerged to describe it such as "Nang slang", "Blinglish", "Tikkiny", or "Blockney". MLE is sometimes referred to as "Jafaican" (or "Jafaikan"), conveying the idea of "fake Jamaican", because of popular belief that it stems solely from immigrants of Jamaican and Caribbean descent. However, research suggests that the roots of MLE are more varied: two Economic and Social Research Council funded research projects found that MLE has most likely developed as a result of language contact and group second language acquisition. Specifically, it can contain elements from "learners' varieties of English, Englishes from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, Caribbean creoles and Englishes along with their indigenised London versions, local London and south-eastern vernacular varieties of English, local and international youth slang, as well as more levelled and standard-like varieties from various sources."


Standard EnglishNon-standard system 1Non-standard system 2
I was, I wasn'tI was, I weren'tI was, I wasn't
You were, you weren'tYou was, you weren'tYou was, you wasn't
He/she/it was, he/she/it wasn'tHe/she/it was, he/she/it weren'tHe/she/it was, he/she/it wasn't
We were, we weren'tWe was, we weren'tWe was, we wasn't

Discourse-pragmatic markers

[1] they was getting jealous though innit
[2] Hadiya: it weren't like it was an accident
       Bisa: innit
[3] yeah I know. I'm a lot smaller than all of them man and who were like "whoa". I mean the sister 'ight she's about five times bigger than you innit Mark?
this is my mum’s boyfriend "put that in your pocket now".


[]This section contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

While older speakers in London today display a vowel and consonant system that matches previously dominant accents such as Cockney, young speakers often display different qualities. The qualities are on the whole not the levelled ones noted in recent studies (such as Williams & Kerswill 1999 and Przedlacka 2002) of teenage speakers in South East England outside London: Milton Keynes, Reading, Luton, Essex, Slough and Ashford. From principles of levelling, it would be expected that younger speakers would show precisely the levelled qualities, with further developments reflecting the innovatory status of London as well as the passage of time. However, evidence, such as Cheshire et al. (2011) and Cheshire et al. (2013), contradicts that expectation.




For a list of words relating to Multicultural London English, see the Multicultural London English category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Examples of vocabulary common in Multicultural London English include:






Other topics

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Multicultural London English, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (view authors).

Date of last edit: 2021-01-29T13:08:05.000Z