The Cockney Dialect

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Ahve you seen my titfah?: The History, Dialect, and Slang of East London

Christopher Sharpe

Ohio University

November 7th, 2011

It’s rhyming slang you know, like bee’s honey… money. Like I could say give me the bee’s (TV Movies, 2011). This is an example of the Cockney Rhyming Slang from the dialect of the same name produced in East London.

The Cockney dialect has not only been prominent in East London but in London as whole. The lower working class of London has spoken the Cockney dialect for centuries, while the upper classes of England spoke a standard dialect of English called Received Pronunciation (Baugh, 1983). Historically the Cockney dialect was considered the ‘poor mans’ speech and was frowned upon by the upper echelon of not only London but in England as a whole. Almost reminiscent of how the language of the Appalachian area of the United States for centuries has also been considered in negative tones. In the sense that they are from the “poor” part of the country and that their dialect portrays that of ignorance. Until recently, the Cockney dialect has endured through years of sporadic abandonment and various social pressures (Baugh, 1983). The reason for this is the strong will from the community who speak with this accent and their willingness to fight for the general populations’ rights at-large (Baugh). One of the major factors behind the Cockney language surviving, as long as it has, is due in part to the romantic poetry called ‘The Cockney Style’ (Cronin, 2002). During the early 1800s many romantic poets began to use the Cockney dialect, as well, as the Cockney society as a whole to form a style of poetry (Cronin). One of the founding members and front-runners of this ‘Cockney style’ of poetry was John Keats (Cronin). Not much is known about John Keats’ early child hood; however, it is known he was born on the outskirts of Northern London in 1795 (Bate, 1963). It is known how Sharpe 2

strongly Keats worked and strived to help the Cockney community, dialect and politics of his time. Until he began to write poetry and push for changes in the viewpoints of the London community on the ‘Cockneys’ they were considered non-human (Bate, 1963). After Keats work began to get published and his voice heard the attitude toward the ‘Cockneys’ began to change, and the majority of Londoners began to change their speech to sound more like the speakers of East London (Cronin, 2002). The legend of the Cockney dialect suggest it was first heard and spoken within earshot of the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow church in East London, but it had quickly spread to the rest of the capital of England (Economist, 2011). Where it has survived and even prospered for many centuries. According to the Economist (2011) the Cockney accent is fading, and is no longer commonly used even within the vicinity of the St. Mary-le-Bow church. It is predicted that by 2030 the Cockney-influence, Estuary English will dominate most of the East and South-East of London. Although the capital of London will have a new dialect inspired by immigration called ‘multicultural London English,’ influenced by Jamaican and West African immigrants, becoming the prominent dialect spoken (Economist, 2011). The Cockney dialogue itself is one of a kind. The readers may not know what the dialect is called but the writer can guarantee that the majority of the civilized world has heard it. Anytime someone listens to music from England or watches a movie with an actor portraying a common Englishman, more often than not the dialect that they hear is Cockney or has Cockney origins.

Sharpe 3
The language has a prominent glottal stop [?] (catch in the throat) instead of the T sound in certain positions, as in take it off [,teIK I? af] (Wells, 1997). This is one of the most tell tale signs of the Cockney dialect along with “h-dropping” (omitting the [h] sound) in most words, so that hand on heart becomes more like ‘and on ‘eart (Wells, 1997)....
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