Cockney and the King's English accents no longer predominate in London

Mouths surrounding the Bow Bells church in East London, defining the Cockney area
Mouths surrounding the Bow Bells church in East London, defining the Cockney area Copyright Canva/Euronews
By Jonny Walfisz
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New research has found three other accents are the defining voices of London in 2023


Well have a butcher’s at that, it seems people aren’t minding their Ps and Qs anymore. Researchers at the University of Essex have found that two of the most famous accents in the south of England have all but disappeared.

Cockney and received pronunciation have long been London and the south-east of England’s most distinctive voices. For those unaware, Cockney is the general term for people from east London. Famously, it’s been said that you can’t be a true Cockney unless you lived within earshot of the Bow Bells, from the Church of St Mary-le-Bow in Whitechapel.

While also noted for its accent, Cockney dialect is synonymous with Cockney rhyming slang. Some terms like “wonga” for “money” originated from the Romani and Jewish immigrant communities. Other terms come from ingenious rhymed associations. “Marvin” meaning “starving” from the British musician Hank Marvin’s name; “dog” is “telephone” as it rhymes with “dog and bone”, while “apples” means “stairs” from “apples and pairs”.

Received pronunciation, often known as the Queen’s English – previously and most recently the King’s English – is the way many of the upper classes of the UK spoke for many generations. Most notably RP was the register that BBC presenters and actors would adopt in the early days of radio and television.

However both of these two accents have almost entirely fallen by the wayside, according to a new study. After researchers Dr Amanda Cole and Dr Patrycja Strycharczuk recorded the voices of 193 people between 19-33 from the origin areas of RP and Cockney, they found three different main accents.

The largest group spoke standard southern British English. Just under half (49%) spoke in the SSBE accent which is a somewhat softened version of the older RP accent. The study found that speakers of SSBE were more likely to be white and women. As an example, Cole cited singer Ellie Goulding’s spoken voice.

The second group was estuary English. Spoken by 26% of respondents, estuary English is an evolution of Cockney towards some of the speaking styles in RP. The accent is still found in east London, as well as the southeast county of Essex. An example of typical estuary English is Adele’s dulcet tones.

Interestingly, both SSBE and estuary English are both somewhere in the middle of RP and Cockney. The two far more distinctive accents have come together to find separate middle grounds. Cole writes this is likely due to more contact between groups, and social pressures to speak in a “correct” way.

The final main group was multicultural London English, spoken by around 25% of the sample. This is a growing group mainly from London that tends to be spoken by Asian British and Black British people. Footballer Bukayo Saka is given as an example of a multicultural London English speaker.

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