New and Adopted English Accents
We have previously explored the many different English accents that are heard in England and around the world. From cockney to Canadian, English accents vary greatly and imbue the English language with a special quality.
Most English accents are readily identifiable and easy to define. But as with all aspects of language, accents change over time and are subjected to a variety of influences. You are probably aware that languages evolve but did you know that entirely new English accents have appeared very recently?
Multicultural London English
Linguists have identified a new accent that has emerged in London over the last thirty years. It is known as Multicultural London English (MLE) and may also be referred to as Blockney or Blinglish. MLE is sometimes referred to as Jafaican because there is a mistaken belief that the accent has evolved solely due to the influence of Caribbean immigrants.
MLE originated in East London and particularly in the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney. But the accent is now spreading across the capital, and is most often heard amongst young, working-class English speakers from ethnic minority communities.
It is thought that MLE is the result of close interactions between different ethnic communities in multiracial areas of the city. People from diverse ethnic groups that would have had different accents are now speaking with the same accent. That accent is strongly associated with urban culture and especially with the Grime music scene.
Prominent speakers of MLE include footballer Raheem Stirling and the rapper Stormzy. It is an accent that is considered cool by younger people across the UK but one that is often frowned upon by older generations outside of East London.
What are the features of MLE?
There are several notable features of the MLE accent. The “th” sound as in the words this and that is pronounced as a “d” and is pronounced as an “f” in the words things and thinking. In addition, the vowel sound found in words such as boat and float is pronounced in a similar way to the vowel sound in the word taught.
Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the MLE accent is the single position, slightly front sound of the “I” (/ai/) in words such as price and like. Please watch the video below as it provides excellent examples of the use of this distinctive vowel sound.
The double “o” vowel sound in words including food and mood is expressed with a forward vowel sound in MLE and this is also a known characteristic of the cockney accent.
Interestingly, MLE is no longer an accent that is confined to London. It has emerged in several other cities including Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester where elements of MLE have been fused with local accents. These regional MLE accents are often referred to as Multicultural Urban British English (MUBE) or Urban British English (UBE).
New accents are certainly developing and spoken English in general has been subjected to a variety of outside influences including overseas television series and movies.
The tendency to intone statements as questions using a rising pitch at the end of sentences is known as upspeak and is becoming more common in England. Question intonation is a prominent feature of Australian English. Those who are irritated by upspeak in England can blame the popularity of Australian soap operas and reality shows for this trend.
Gen Z and accent adoption
Just as English accents are being adapted, so are they being adopted, at least temporarily. A fascinating trend has emerged in the US. Young people are switching to an English accent in moments of stress or to bring levity to awkward moments. The practice is clearly becoming more common.
Members of what is known as Generation Z or Gen Z (those born between 1994 and 2009)) are feigning received pronunciation or even a cockney accent almost spontaneously.
This is a very odd practice on the face of it. However, the adoption of a different accent is probably a form of dissociative behaviour. If you want to say something that is potentially incendiary, say it as if the words have emerged from the lips of someone else!
It has been suggested that Americans switch to using an English accent in moments of stress because Brits are associated with keeping a stiff upper lip. In addition, streamed TV series such as The Crown and Bridgerton have been hugely successful in the US and have placed English accents centre stage.
British reality shows including Love Island and The Only Way is Essex have also proved popular in America. Those shows are loaded with disagreements, arguments and awkward moments. This could have inspired young Americans to feel that English accents are good choices when tackling stressful situations.
Gen Alpha and Peppa Pig
Generation Alpha is the term for the demographic cohort succeeding Gen Z.
In recent years parents have been taking to Twitter to report that their Gen Alpha kids are developing English Accents thanks to their love of Peppa Pig. The parents have commented that their youngsters are saying “mummy” instead of “mommy” and that if the pronunciation of a word varies between English and American English, the children have started using the English pronunciation.
Young people drive the evolution of accents
It is clear and unsurprising that is amongst the younger generations that spoken English is changing most rapidly and not just in England.
Millennials and members of both Gen Z and Gen Alpha have grown up in a more connected world than previous generations and so are exposed to more diverse influences. In addition, society is less judgemental about regional accents these days, giving greater freedom to young people regarding the way they speak. The youngest minds are the most impressionable and so even cartoon characters such as Peppa Pig can inspire changes in the way people speak.
It will be interesting to see how English accents evolve in the coming years.