Multicultural London English

Multicultural London English (abbreviated MLE) 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).[1] 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."[2][3]

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.[4] 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".[5] 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.[5]

In the press, MLE is sometimes referred to as "Jafaican" (or "Jafaikan"), conveying the idea of "fake Jamaican", because of popular belief that it stems from immigrants of Jamaican and Caribbean descent.[4][6] However, research suggests that the roots of MLE are more varied: two Economic and Social Research Council funded research projects[7][8] found that MLE has most likely developed as a result of language contact and group second language acquisition.[9] 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."[10][11]


  • Was/were variation: The past tense of the verb "to be" is regularised. Regularisation of was/were is something that is found across the English speaking world. Many non-standard systems in Britain (and parts of the US Mid-Atlantic coast) use was variably for positive conjugations, and weren't for negative conjugations (System 1 below) to make the distinction between positive and negative contexts clearer (cf. will/won't and are/ain't).[12] Most non-Standard varieties in the English speaking world have a system where both positive and negative contexts have levelled to was (System 2 below).[13] Speakers of MLE use any of the three systems, with choice correlating with ethnicity and gender.[13] Cheshire and Fox (2008) found the use of non-standard was to be most common among Black Caribbean speakers, and least common among those of Bangladeshi descent.[13] Bangladeshis were also found to use non-standard weren't the least, but this variable was used more by White British speakers than anyone else.[13]
Standard English Non-standard system 1 Non-standard system 2
I was, I wasn't I was, I weren't I was, I wasn't
You were, you weren't You was, you weren't You was, you wasn't
He/she/it was, he/she/it wasn't He/she/it was, he/she/it weren't He/she/it was, he/she/it wasn't
We were, we weren't We was, we weren't We was, we wasn't
  • An innovative feature is the ability to form questions in "Why ... for?"[14] compared to Standard English "Why ...?" or "What ... for?".
  • The "traditional Southern"[14] England phrasal preposition "off of" has "robust use",[14] especially with "Anglo females".[14]
  • Man as a pronoun: 'Man' is widely used as a first person singular pronoun, which may be rendered "man's" when combined with certain verbs such as "to be" and "to have": "man got arrested", "man's getting emotional".[15] "Man" can also be used to refer to the second-person or third-person singular: "Where's man going?" (Where are you/is he going?)

Discourse-pragmatic markers

  • Innit, a reduction of 'isn't it', has a third discourse function in MLE, in addition to the widespread usage as a tag-question or a follow-up as in [1] and [2] below. In MLE, innit can also mark information structure overtly, to mark a topic or to foreground new information, as in [3].[4]
[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 as a quotative, to introduce direct reported speech at key points in dramatic narrative.[16]
this is my mum’s boyfriend "put that in your pocket now".


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.


  • Fronting of /ʊ/, the vowel in FOOT: "more retracted in the outer-city borough of Havering than in Hackney"[9]
  • Lack of /oʊ/-fronting: fronting of the offset of /oʊ/ "absent in most inner-London speakers" of both sexes and all ethnicities but "present in outer-city girls".[5]
  • /aɪ/-lowering across region: it is seen as a reversal of the diphthong shift. However, the added fronting is greater in London than in the southeastern periphery, resulting in variants such as [aɪ]. Fronting and monophthongisation of /aɪ/ are correlated with ethnicity and strongest among non-whites. It seems to be a geographically directional and diachronically gradual process. The change (from approximately [ɔɪ]) involves lowering of the onset, and as such, it is a reversal of the diphthong shift. It can be interpreted as a London innovation with diffusion to the periphery.
  • Raised onset of the vowel in words like FACE, which results in variants such as [eɪ]. Like /aɪ/, monophthongisation of /eɪ/ is strongest among non-whites. It is also seen as a reversal of the diphthong shift.[9][17]
  • /aʊ/ realised as [aː] and not "levelled" [aʊ]: In inner-city London, [aː] is the norm for /aʊ/. Additionally, [ɑʊ] is used by some non-whites, especially girls, in the inner city.
  • Advanced fronting of /uː/ results in realisations such as [ʏː][9]
  • Backing of /æ/ can result in variants such as [].[9]
  • Backing of /ʌ/ results in variants such as [ɑ] or [ʌ], rather than [ɐ].[9]


  • Reversal of H-dropping: word-initial /h/ was commonly dropped in traditional Cockney in words like hair and hand. That is now much less common, with some MLE speakers not dropping /h/ at all.[9]
  • Backing of /k/ to [q]: /k/ is pronounced further back in the vocal tract and is realised as [q] when it occurs before non-high back vowels, such as in words like cousin and come.[9][17]
  • Th-fronting: /θ/ is fronted to [f] in words such as three and through (which become free and frough), and /ð/ is fronted to [v] words such as brother and another, which become bruvver and anuvver.[17][5]
  • Th-stopping: interdental fricatives can be stopped, and thing and that become ting and dat.[5]
  • According to Geoff Lindsey, one of the most striking features of MLE is the advanced articulation of the sibilants /s, z/ as post-dental [, ].[18]
  • Like many in most of the rest of England, Multicultural London English is non-rhotic.


Examples of vocabulary common in Multicultural London English include:


  • "Bait" (obvious to law enforcement)
  • "Balling" (rich)
  • "Banging" (excellent)
  • "Bare" (very/a lot, or lack of. Situationly dependent)
  • "Black up" (extremely high or drunk)
  • "Boog" (fake)
  • "Booky" (suspicious, strange)
  • "Buff" (strong/attractive) (can be used in conjunction with "ting" meaning an attractive situation, or more commonly, an attractive female)
  • "Butters" (ugly, or disgusting)
  • "Clapped" (ugly, or disgusting, shot)
  • "Dead/bad" (boring, empty)
  • "Deep" (very unfortunate/serious) (used to describe a situation)
  • "Dread" (very unfortunate)
  • "Dutty" (ugly, or disgusting)
  • "Frass" (ugly, or disgusting)
  • "Frassed" (excessively drunk or high)
  • "Gassed" (excited/proud of oneself)
  • "Gully" (Cool, especially of clothing)
  • "Greezy" (cool)
  • "Hench" (physically fit, strong)
  • "Leng" (attractive)
  • "Long" (laborious, tedious)
  • "Mad" (amazing)
  • "Moist" (soft / uncool, more extreme form of ‘wet’)
  • "Nitty" (describes someone who is desperate and will do anything to get high, such as smoking a joint right down to the roach)
  • "Peak" [piːk] (serious / unfortunate)
  • "Peng" (attractive or delicious)
  • "Piff" (a cannabis cigarette or cannabis itself)
  • "Safe" (greetings / good, friendly, kind)
  • "Shook" (scared)
  • "Soggy" (uncool, boring, soft)
  • "Sus" (suspicious, odd)
  • "Wavey" (cool, especially of clothing, or very drunk/high)
  • "Wet" (uncool, boring, soft) (wet can also mean to stab, to 'wet' man up would mean to stab someone)


  • "Dun know" ("of course" or "you already know", also an expression of approval. An abbreviated form of "You done know" as in "You done know how it goes".)
  • "Alie!" ("I know", or an expression of agreement)
  • "Oh, my days!" [oʊ maː deɪz] (a generalised exclamation, previously common in the 1940s and 1950s)
  • "Safe" [seɪf] (expression of approval, greeting, thanks, agreement, and also used as a parting phrase)
  • "My G" [maɪ.dʒiː] (as above)
  • "Rah!" (Wow!)
  • "Big man ting" ("seriously"/used before making a statement)
  • "swear down!" ("Swear it", "really?")


  • "Man" [mæn] (First or second-person singular)
  • "You" (Second-person singular)
  • "My man" [mæn] (Third-person singular, masculine)
  • "My guy" (Third-person singular, masculine)
  • "Dem man" [mæn] (They)
  • "Us man" [mæn] (We)
  • "You man" [mæn] (You, plural)


  • "Akhi" (a term of endearment, derived from the Arabic word for my brother)
  • "Akh" (a term of endearment, derived from the Arabic word for brother)
  • "Banger" (a good song/video)
  • "Baller" (a rich person)
  • "Blem" (a cigarette)
  • "Bruv" (an endearing term used for a close friend or brother)
  • "Creps" (shoes, more typically trainers or sneakers)
  • "Cunch" (the countryside or any small town outside London)
  • "Ends" [ɛnz] (Urban areas of London)
  • "Fam" [fæm] (Short for "family", can also refer to "friend")
  • "Gally" (girl(s))
  • "Garms" (clothes, derived from garments)
  • "Gyal" (girl)
  • "Gyaldem" (group of girls)
  • "Main ting" (sexual partner excluding (see) side tings)
  • "Myth" (used when something is untrue or not going to happen)
  • "Mandem" (group of males)
  • "OT" (out of town)
  • "Paigon" [ˈpeɪɡən] (A modified spelling of English word "pagan", to refer to a fake friend/enemy)
  • "Riddim" (song or track, derived from rhythm)
  • "Roadman" (a youth, usually in a gang, who spends a lot of his time on the streets with a reputation in the area. These people take a lot of risks. Can also be used as a general slur. Comes from the term ‘doing road’.)
  • "Rambo" (a large knife)
  • "Side ting" (sexual partner other than a girlfriend/wife, as in the standard British phrase "a bit on the side")
  • "Sheg" (a bad deal)
  • "Skeng" (weapon, a knife/gun)
  • "Sket" (a promiscuous female)
  • "Threads/Freads" (clothes)
  • "Ting" (a thing or a situation, also an attractive female)
  • "Trimzino" (haircut)
  • "Wasteman" (A worthless/useless person)
  • "Boss(man)" (used to refer to an individual, often as a term of respect)
  • "Upsuh" (up there, from Patwa)
  • "Wap" (gun)
  • "Wifey" (girlfriend or wife)
  • "Yard" [jɑːd] (house or dwelling)


  • "Air" (to ignore somebody)
  • "Aks" (ask, an example of metathesis that also occurs in West Country dialects)
  • "Allow (it)" (to urge someone else to exercise self-restraint)
  • "Bawl" (to cry)
  • "Beef" (to fight)
  • "Beg (it)" (to "suck up" to somebody)
  • "Bun" (to smoke, especially weed)
  • "Buss" (to give/to send, or to ejaculate)
  • "Buss up" (to laugh hysterically)
  • "Bait out" (to make something obvious, especially of an illegal or mischievous act)
  • "Chat wass/breeze" (talk rubbish/lie)
  • "Chefe" (stab, from a chef cutting with a knife)
  • "Ching" (stab)
  • "Chirpse" (to flirt with somebody)
  • "Clap" (to steal, or to slap)
  • "Cop" (to buy)
  • "Cotch" (to hang out)
  • "Crease" (to laugh hysterically)
  • "Cut" (to leave)
  • "Dash" (to throw)
  • "Deck" (to punch)
  • "Deep" (to really think about something)
  • "Duss" (to run quickly)
  • ”Do road” (to sell drugs on the streets, usually at street corners)
  • "Fish" (to go looking for opps to attack)
  • "Gas" (to lie)
  • "Get gassed" (to be proud of oneself)
  • "Jack" (to steal something)
  • "Jerk" (to rob)
  • "Leg" (to run away)
  • "Lick" (to slap)
  • "Link (up)" (to rendez-vous)
  • "Lips" (to kiss)
  • "Kweff" (to stab)
  • "Merk" (to beat someone at something)
  • "Mug off" (to verbally abuse someone, or to give someone a bad deal)
  • "Par (off)" (to verbally abuse someone, or to make a mockery of someone)
  • "Pree" (to stare at something or someone)
  • "Rinse" (to use up all or most of something very quickly, especially something bought by someone else)
  • "Rush" (to attack somebody as a group)
  • "Scrap" (to fight)
  • "Scrape" (to involve oneself in something uninvited)
  • "Shubz" (to party)
  • "Touch yard" (to have reached home)
  • "Twos" (to share something with somebody, usually a cigarette)
  • "Violate" (to severely make a mockery of someone)
  • "Waff/waffle" (to talk rubbish)
  • "Wifey" (to enter into a relationship with a female)

In popular culture

  • The Bhangra Muffin characters from Goodness Gracious Me use an early form of Multicultural London English.
  • Characters of all ethnicities in the Channel 4 series Phoneshop use Multicultural London English continually.
  • Characters in the film Kidulthood and its sequel Adulthood also use the dialect, as well as the parody film Anuvahood.
  • The satirical character Ali G parodies the speech patterns of Multicultural London English for comic effect.
  • The gang protagonists of the film Attack the Block speak Multicultural London English.
  • Several characters in the sitcom People Just Do Nothing speak Multicultural London English.
  • Lauren Cooper (and her friends Lisa and Ryan) from The Catherine Tate Show often use Multicultural London English vocabulary.
  • In the feature film Kingsman: The Secret Service, the protagonist Gary "Eggsy" Unwin uses MLE, but his mother and stepfather use regular Cockney.
  • Lisa, the police officer in Little Miss Jocelyn, speaks Multicultural London English and interprets speech for colleagues.
  • Armstrong & Miller has a series of Second World War sketches with two RAF pilots who juxtapose the dialect's vocabulary and grammar with a 1940s RP accent for comedic effect.
  • A BBC article about Adele mentioned her as being a speaker of Multicultural London English.[19]
  • The Chicken Connoisseur (Elijah Quashie), a YouTube user who rates the quality of takeaways selling chicken and chips, frequently uses Multicultural London English vocabulary.[20][21]
  • The TV show Chewing Gum uses Multicultural London English throughout.
  • The song "Man's Not Hot" by comedian Michael Dapaah under the pseudonym Big Shaq, which satirises UK drill music, utilises MLE.[22]
  • Many of the characters in the show Top Boy use Multicultural London English.
  • The main characters and most characters in supporting roles use Multicultural London English in the show Man Like Mobeen.

See also


  1. ^ "UrBEn-ID Urban British English project".
  2. ^ University of Lancaster press release 2010.
  3. ^ BBC News 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Cheshire, Jenny; Nortier, Jacomine; Adger, David (2015). "Emerging Multiethnolects in Europe" (PDF). Queen Mary Occasional Papers in Linguistics: 4.
  5. ^ a b c d e Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue; Kerswill, Paul; Torgersen, Eivind (2008). Ethnicity, friendship network and social practices as the motor of dialect change: Linguistic innovation in London (PDF). Sociolinguistica. 22. pp. 1–23. doi:10.1515/9783484605299.1. ISBN 9783484605299.
  6. ^ Braier, Rachel (2013). "Jafaican? No we're not". The Guardian.
  7. ^ "Linguistic Innovators: The English of Adolescents in London ESRC grant page".
  8. ^ "Multicultural London English: the emergence, acquisition and diffusion of a new variety ESRC grant page".
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Cheshire, Jenny; Kerswill, Paul; Fox, Sue; Torgersen, Eivind (1 April 2011). "Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English" (PDF). Journal of Sociolinguistics. 15 (2): 151–196. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2011.00478.x. ISSN 1467-9841.
  10. ^ Kerswill 2013, p. 5.
  11. ^ Global English Slang : Methodologies and Perspectives. Taylor and Francis. 10 January 2014. p. 96. ISBN 9781317934769.
  12. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Schilling-Estes, Natalie (1994). "Convergent explanation and alternative regularization patterns: Were/weren't levelling in a vernacular English variety". Language Variation and Change. 6 (3): 273–302. doi:10.1017/S0954394500001691.
  13. ^ a b c d Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue (2008). "Was/were variation: A perspective from London". Language Variation and Change. 21 (1): 1–38. doi:10.1017/S0954394509000015. ISSN 1469-8021.
  14. ^ a b c d Kerswill 2007.
  15. ^ Cheshire, Jenny (2013). "Grammaticalisation in social context: The emergence of a new English pronoun". Journal of Sociolinguistics. 17 (5): 608–633. doi:10.1111/josl.12053.
  16. ^ Cheshire, Jenny; Hall, David; Adger, David (2017). "Multicultural London English and social and educational policies". Languages, Society & Policy. doi:10.17863/CAM.9804.
  17. ^ a b c Cheshire, Jenny; Fox, Sue; Kerswill, Paul; Torgersen, Eivind (2013). "Language contact and language change in the multicultural metropolis". Revue Française de Linguistique Appliqueé. XVIII.
  18. ^ Lindsey 2011.
  19. ^ Gompertz, Will (26 February 2016). "Adele: The full story". BBC News. BBC.
  20. ^ "YouTube star reviews London chicken shops in search of 'pengest munch'". 9 December 2016.
  21. ^ "Boy Reviewing London's Chicken Shops Goes Viral". 9 December 2016.
  22. ^ Stolberg, Kjartan F. "Big Shaq giver koncert i København – 'Man's Not Hot'-rapperen til ny hiphopfestival". SOUNDVENUE.COM.


Further reading

External links

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