Multicultural London English (MLE)

According to reports I have read this week a form of English is emerging in London. It combines elements from Cockney, Jamaican and other Caribbean Englishes, and from South Asian varieties of English. It is known as Jafaican (pseudo-Jamaican) by some, but researchers from Lancaster University believe that it is not white kids trying to sound like black kids, but rather young people who are exposed to different varieties of English as they grow up and who incorporate different influences into their speech.

Linguists call it Multicultural London English (MLE) and have found that it is used increasingly in southern England and is replacing Cockney and other dialects. Apparently multicultural Englishes with similar characteristics are emerging in other large UK cities.

Some phonetic characteristics of MLE include a shift of some vowels towards the back of the mouth, the pronunciation of /h/, which isn’t pronounced in Cockney, and th fronting (/θ/ becomes /f/).

Inevitably some reports attract negative and ignorant comments like:

“It’s a ridiculous accent, so fake. All the kids are speaking in it now, I think it sounds so stupid, makes them sound thick along with their non-words like peak and peng. It’s only used by kids who are trying to be gangsters.”


“Personally I think the folk that talk in that faux caribbean patois sound like they’re thick. And I’m a Geordie!!! :-)”

and even

“This accent also comes with the lack of understanding of the use of the words your, you’re, there, their and they’re.”

A lack of understanding of the difference between written and spoken language there, perhaps :).

Some reports are more sensible and balanced though:

4 thoughts on “Multicultural London English (MLE)

  1. That’s a good article, and a great clip. I’m particularly interested in the fact that people who genuinely love language, like the expert in the clip, find joy in change. It’s almost a celebration of social and cultural advance rather than a lament for the old ways.

    In terms of MLE and regional dialect, the same can be seen in languages around the world. Language is not a static thing, it’s an expression of culture that’s grown by use and application. That’s why it’s really important to get out and about and use your language of choice in a wide range of contexts.

    Perhaps the fact that young people associate with a wider range of people is a reason that language changes, like MLE, seem to be a product of youth culture. Older people tend to have more closed or controlled social groups, and are less likely to be exposed to developing cultural or geographical influences.

    All very interesting anyway…

  2. Interesting video. Liked the comment of the linguist that such rapid language change is “exciting” (rather than alarming).

  3. I remember noticing, when at secondary school in London 25 years ago, that certain groups of kids – mostly those from West Indian or Asian families – had their own particular way of pronouncing words that was distinct from either Cockney or RP (Most others fell somewhere between those two accents), yet still unmistakeably London. In the intervening years between then and now, I had little to do with kids of school age, but I would occasionally hear snatches of conversation between youngsters in the street and began to notice these features – mainly the pronunciation of vowel sounds – becoming more generic.

    Much of what I have observed is covered in the video. The most noticeable feature, to me, is the narrowing or smoothing of diphthongs:

    Cockney MLE Example
    /ɑɪ/ /æe/ or /æː/ like
    /æɪ/ /ɛɪ/, /eɪ/ or /e/ lake
    /əi/ /i:/ or /i/ leek
    /æʉ/ /əʊ/ /oʊ/ or /o/ poke
    /æʊ/, /æə/* or /æ:/* /ɑʊ/ pout

    *In this case, two of the cockney variants are actually narrower than their MLE counterpart.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *