Posted on April 1, 2016
Cockney English has been described by Green (2013) as primarily a dialect rather than a distinct language. It was first used as early as the sixteenth century (Matthews, 1938) and was centred around Cheapside in London, in an area described as within earshot of Bow bells. This refers to the church bells of Saint Mary le Bow rather than the suburb of Bow (Green, 2013).
The most notable feature to mark Cockney English as distinct from other dialects is ‘rhyming slang’. This use of single or combinations of words in place of the word being alluded to was, as Green (2013) noted, intended to bamboozle non-Cockneys, and as such strengthen alliances within the lower socio-economic echelons of central London. Examples of rhyming slang include ‘apples and pears’ meaning ‘stairs’, and the phrase ‘I should cocoa’ meaning ‘I should think so’, used in agreement. Rhyming slang is still used today, and delights tourists from all over the world upon visiting London.
Other important features of Cockney English as described and evaluated by Wells (1982b) are the mouth vowel (where ‘mouth is pronounced ‘mauf’); the glottal stop (where ‘cat’ is pronounced ‘ca’ and ‘Waterloo’ is pronounced ‘Wa’erloo’); the dropped ‘h’ at the beginning of words (where ‘house’ is pronounced ‘ause’); the TH fronting (where ‘thin’ is pronounced ‘fin’ and ‘brother’ is pronounced ‘bruvva); and vowel lowering (where ‘tomorrow’ is pronounced ‘tomorra’). It is generally considered to have a rough and harsh tone.
In recent times Cockney English has begun to be incorporated into new dialects such as Estuary English, and Multi-Ethnic London English (Green, 2013), indicating both a changing London and a strength in its roots.>
Green, J. (2013). Cockney. Oxford English Dictionary: Oxford University Press.
Matthews, W. (1938). Cockney Past and Present. A Short History of the Dialect of London.
Wells, J.C. (1982b). Accents of English 2. The British Isles. Cambridge University Press.