The Cockney Dialect
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).
Wells (1997) also tell us; that the Cockney dialect has an l-vocalization, in that they pronounce the l sound, not immediately following a vowel-sound, more like [w]. In his example, milk bottle becomes miwk bottoo and football becomes foo’baw (Wells). Notice how in the example their pronunciation of football you also have that glottal stop of the T sound showing up again. Wells (1997) suggests the language has a slight tensing of the Y endings on words such as Happy, coffee, and valley from more of a lax short [I] to the tense long [i:] sound.
It also has what Wells considers Yod Coalescent, so Tuesday becomes more like Chooseday, replacing a TY sound with more of a CH sound. The last prominent speech pattern of the Cockney dialect is called th-fronting. Which is where the speaker uses more of a labiodental fricative instead of dental fricatives for the TH sound. For an example I think turns more into I fink and mother becomes more like mofer (Wells,1997). The grammar of the Cockney language is just as special as the sounds coming from the mouths of the speakers.
Wells in another one of his journals, on the Cockney Dialect, tells us there is a strong multiple negation in the speech patterns such as, I ain’t never done nothing. Along with a verb morphology as in, You seen ‘im. – I never! – They done it. – You was (Wells, 2004). Sharpe 4 There is also, in the Cockney dialect, a push towards reflexive pronouns such as, ‘Ell ‘urt ‘imself. – That’s yourn. As well as a push towards demonstratives, ex: them books, adverbs without the –ly ending, ex: Trains are running normal. Their prepositions have the form of, down the pub, up her nan’s, and out the window.
Other non-standard forms of the Cockney grammar are; runnin’, mornin’, ain’t it, and Where’s me bag (Wells, 2004)? Along with the beginning history of the Cockney dialect, the Cockney grammar is also similar with the grammar of the Appalachian dialect of the United States. Within the Appalachian region it is common for the word ain’t to be used and the letter g to be dropped from various words. All of this definitely leads to the most complex and entertaining part of the Cockney language, which is the Cockney rhyming slang.
The Cockney rhyming slang could be more appropriately named Cockney jargon, because of it being around since the late 1800s, is the construction of “replacing words with a rhyming phrase of two or three words; in almost all cases, omitting the secondary rhyming word in a process called hemiteleia making the origin and meaning of the phrase elusive to listeners who are unaware of its use (Wikipedia, 2011). ” The history of Cockney Rhyming Slang falls in line with the founding of the Cockney dialect, as in its based only on legends. There are two prominent legends on the beginning of this jargon.
The first legend suggests it started in the mid 19th century somewhere around the 1840s (Wikipedia, 2011) when it was formed by traveling salesmen around the Cockney area. According to the legends the jargon allowed the traveling salesmen to talk among themselves without their customers knowing what they Sharpe 5 were discussing (Wikipedia). The second legend proposes that the jargon started among criminals during the 1530s in order for them to speak between each other so that their criminal activities would be unknown amidst the general populace (Wikipedia).
Whether the First or the Second legend is true they are both based on the same underlying principle, which is to discuss their business without the conventional knowledge of the public. The most highly used example of Cockney Rhyming Slang, even though it is rarely used anymore, is that of the word “stairs. ” The rhyming of stairs is “apples and pears” where pears is the rhyming word for stairs, but since we omit the second part of the rhyme we end up with, “I’m going up the apples (Wikipedia, 2011). ”
Another good example of this rhyming is “eyes. Which the rhyme is “meat pies”, where again we exclude the second part of the rhyme and conclude with, “I can’t believe my meat (Wikipedia). ” In the present day most of the Cockney Rhyming slang is used to replace Taboo words such as, “You’re a James. ” Referring to James Blunt and the rhyme that consists of it, (a derogatory name for a female). Another rhyme of that nature would be, “Go Daffy yourself. ” Which refers to Daffy Duck and the reader can see where that is going. When it comes to Taboo words there is many different variations of rhyming that can replace the exact same word.
In conclusion the history, dialect and slang of the Cockney area, is by far one of the most exciting places that a linguist, historian or even a common person looking to expand his/her own vocabulary can find. It is a shame that it is losing its foothold even in Sharpe 6 the region it was created. The Cockney dialect is one of the very examples of a dying dialect that has been recorded by audio, film and written for the whole world to view the magic.