What is London speech like?

Auriel   Fri Nov 10, 2006 12:43 am GMT
I have never been to London, a fascinating city in my mind's eye. And I constantly wonder about the way long-time Londoners speak.

Is there a distinctive accent called "London accent", or is it estuary accent, RP or cockney accent that is most widely spoken with in and around the London area?

The opinions of those who have had the experience of living in London are most appreciated!
Robin   Fri Nov 10, 2006 1:56 am GMT

Unfortunately, I lost my original reply due to a faulty internet connection. Try the 'Eastenders' site for a television programme based in London.
Damian in Edinburgh   Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:23 am GMT
Pop down to Clapham, in Sarf Landun. Lodonspeak is pretty much age classified - the generations tend to speak differently, and Norf Landun is a wee bit different from Sarf Landun. Clapham has a Common..... :-)

I'm suffering bouts of London Withdrawal Syndrome

Try this link - Real Player required:

Guest   Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:26 am GMT
Guest   Sat Nov 11, 2006 3:21 am GMT
Eh, if you wanted to compare Irish or maybe even Scottish with American English, there'd be something there, but Londoner and N.American English are light-years apart.
Robin   Sat Nov 11, 2006 8:35 am GMT
I got nine out of ten.

I confused Bengali with Punjabi.


It also has different British accents, including a London accent.
Adam   Sat Nov 11, 2006 8:58 pm GMT
I don't think there is any specific London accent. London is so huge - the largest city in Europe - that each part of London has its own accents.

But here's an explanation of the Cockney accent. Remember that to be a true Cockney, a person has to be born within hearing distance of the bells of St. Mary le Bow, Cheapside, in the City of London. This traditional working-class accent of the region is also associated with other suburbs in the eastern section of the city such as the East End, Stepney, Hackney, Shoreditch Poplar and Bow. People who pretend to be Cockneys and who put on fake Cockneys accents are known as "Mockneys."

One major feature of Cockney is that its speakers seem not to be able to produce the "th" sounds, saying "F" instead.

So "south" is pronounced "sarf" and "north" is like "norf".

"Northerner" and "southerner" sound like "norvenner" and "suvverner."

Due to the fact that London is both the political capital and the largest city within England, Wells, (1982b) doesn’t find it surprising that it’s also the country’s "linguistic center of gravity." Cockney represents the basilectal end of the London accent and can be considered the broadest form of London local accent.(Wells 1982b) It traditionally refers only to specific regions and speakers within the city. While many Londoners may speak what is referred to as "popular London" (Wells 1982b) they do not necessarily speak Cockney. The popular Londoner accent can be distinguished from Cockney in a number of ways, and can also be found outside of the capital, unlike the true Cockney accent.

The term Cockney refers to both the accent as well as to those people who speak it? The etymology of Cockney has long been discussed and disputed. One explanation is that "Cockney" literally means cock's egg, a misshapen egg such as sometimes laid by young hens. It was originally used when referring to a weak townsman, opposed to the tougher countryman and by the 17th century the term, through banter, came to mean a Londoner (Liberman, 1996). Today's natives of London, especially in its East End use the term with respect and pride - `Cockney Pride'.)

Cockney is characterized by its own special vocabulary and usage, and traditionally by its own development of "rhyming slang." Rhyming slang, is still part of the true Cockney culture even if it is sometimes used for effect. More information on the way it works can be found under the Cockney English features section.

Geography of Cockney English:
London, the capital of England, is situated on the River Thames, approximately 50 miles north of the English Channel, in the south east section of the country. It is generally agreed, that to be a true Cockney, a person has to be born within hearing distance of the bells of St. Mary le Bow, Cheapside, in the City of London. This traditional working-class accent of the region is also associated with other suburbs in the eastern section of the city such as the East End, Stepney, Hackney, Shoreditch Poplar and Bow.

Sociolinguistic issues of Cockney English:

The Cockney accent is generally considered one of the broadest of the British accents and is heavily stimatized. It is considered to epitomize the working class accents of Londoners and in its more diluted form, of other areas. The area and its colorful characters and accents have often become the foundation for British "soap operas" and other television specials. Currently, the BBC is showing one of the most popular soaps set in this region, "East Enders" and the characters’ accents and lives within this television program provide wonderful opportunities for observers of language and culture.

Some of the more characteristic features of the Cockney accent include the following:

This affects the lexical set mouth vowel.

MOUTH vowel
Wells (1982b) believes that it is widely agreed that the "mouth" vowel is a "touchstone for distinguishing between "true Cockney" and popular London" and other more standard accents. Cockney usage would include monophthongization of the word mouth


mouth = mauf (rather than mouth)

Glottal stop
Wells (1982b) describes the glottal stop as also particularly characteristic of Cockney and can be manifested in different ways such as "t" glottalling in final position. A 1970’s study of schoolchildren living in the East End found /p,t,k/ "almost invariably glottalized" in final position.


cat =
up =
sock =

It can also manifest itself as a bare as the realization of word internal intervocalic /t/


Waterloo = Wa’erloo
City = Ci’y
A drink of water = A drin' a wa'er
A little bit of bread with a bit of butter on it = A li'le bi' of breab wiv a bi' of bu'er on i'.

As would be expected, an "Estuary English" speaker uses fewer glottal stops for t or d than a "London" speaker, but more than an RP speaker. However, there are some words where the omission of ‘t’ has become very accepted.


Gatwick = Ga’wick
Scotland = Sco'land
statement = Sta'emen
network = Ne’work

Dropped ‘h’ at beginning of words (Voiceless glottal fricative)
In the working-class ("common") accents throughout England, ‘h’ dropping at the beginning of certain words is heard often, but it’s certainly heard more in Cockney, and in accents closer to Cockney on the continuum between that and RP. The usage is strongly stigmatized by teachers and many other standard speakers.


house = ‘ouse

hammer = ‘ammer

TH fronting
Another very well known characteristic of Cockney is th fronting which involves the replacement of the dental fricatives, and by labiodentals [f] and [v] respectively.


thin = fin
brother = bruvver
three = free
bath = barf

Vowel lowering

dinner = dinna
marrow= marra

And, of course, there's Cockney Rhyming Slang.

Cockney rhyming slang (sometimes intitialized as CRS) is a form of English slang which originated in the East End of London.

Cockney Rhyming slang works by replacing words with short phrases that rhyme with them. For instance, the term "boat race" would be used to refer to one's face, as "race" rhymes with "face". Often, to quicken speech, the phrase is abbreviated to only the first word or syllable. So, in a similar fashion, "plates" would be "feet" ("plates of meat"), and "bees" would mean "money" ("bees and honey").

The origins of rhyming slang are disputed. Some suggest it developed as a way of obscuring the meaning of sentences to those who did not understand, such as non-locals. However, it remains a matter of speculation as to whether this was a linguistic accident; it was developed intentionally to assist criminals (see thieves' cant); or it was chiefly used to maintain a sense of community.

The proliferation of rhyming slang has meant many of its expressions have passed into common language, and the creation of new ones is no longer restricted to Cockneys. Some substitutions have become relatively widespread in Britain, such as "have a butcher's" (which means to have a look, from the rhyming slang "butcher's hook"), and these are often now used without awareness of the original rhyming slang. Such is the extent of this that terms like "berk" (from Berkeley Hunt, meaning "cunt") and "cobblers" (from "cobbler's awls", meaning "balls") are both less taboo than their etymology would suggest. Despite this, most other actual and purported substitutions are still not in common usage.

Tea leaf = Thief
Apples and Stairs = Stairs
Plates of meat = Feet

The film The Limey (1999) features Terrence Stamp as Wilson, a Cockney man recently released from prison who spices his conversations with rhyming slang:

Wilson: Can't be too careful nowadays, y'know? Lot of "tea leaves" about, know what I mean?
Warehouse Foreman: Excuse me?
Wilson: "Tea leaves"... "thieves."
Wilson: Eddy... yeah, he's me new "china."
Elaine: What?
Wilson: "China plate"... "mate."
Wilson: I'm gonna 'ave a "butcher's" round the house.
Ed Roel: Who you gonna butcher?
Wilson: "Butcher's hook"... "look."


Apples = apples and pears = stairs — e.g. "Get up them apples!" (Get up them stairs!)

Barnet = Barnet Fair = hair — e.g. "What’s the matter with your Barnet?" (What's the matter with your hair?)

China = China plate = mate — e.g. "He's my old China." (He's my old mate)

Frog = frog and toad = road — e.g. "I was crossing the frog." (I was crossing the road)

Rosie = Rosie Lee = tea — e.g. "Have a cup of Rosie." (Have a cup of tea)

Adam   Sat Nov 11, 2006 9:06 pm GMT
Apples and Stairs = Stairs

That should be-

Apples and Pears = Stairs
Pete   Sun Nov 12, 2006 1:19 pm GMT
<<Americans, who learn Castilian Spanish in high school and college, are always in for a surprise (or a disappointment) when they try to converse with Mexican Spanish speakers.>>

I think this is a natural thing. At a language school, you are normally taught the standard form of a language. Unlike English, in Spanish there is something that Spanish Linguists call "Standard Spanish" which is a neutral variety that can be undestood by speakers of Peninsular Spanish or Latinamerican Spanish. "Standard Spanish" uses terms that can be understood, and tends to avoid regionalisms and local slang in order to enhance comprehension
This "Standard Spanish" is used by educated people living in different parts of a country when they go somewhere else in their country or when they actually travel to another Spanish speaking country. However, in rural areas, you are likely to find very few people who can use this form of speech, as they only know theyr regional speech and slang, they sometimes fail to communicate witha foreigner because of the differences. Ejm:

Spanish guy: ¿Como se llega a Lima desde aquí?
Peruvian guy: Vaya a la pista y ahi pasan carros para Lima.
Spanish guy: carros... pero, en coche es más caro.
Peruvian guy: No pues, tambien hay buses, tambien. Tiene que pagar el boleto cuando suba.
Spanish guy: O sea, ¿antes de subir pago el billete?
Peruvian guy: No no, tambien se puede pagar con monedas. Normal...

I assume that if you mentioned Spanish, is because you speak Spanish, so I won't translate. I'll show you the words that caused confusion.

carro (Peru).- car (Spain, althought never used), bus, and many other means of transport.
coche (Spain).- car (widely used)
billete (Spain)/ boleto (Peru) .- ticket
billete (Peru) .- bank note.

If the Peruvian guy had been able to speak "Standard Spanish" apart from his own standard Peruvian variety, communication would've been easier.

Pete from Peru