The death of Cockney?

When it comes to world cities, London is by far the most diverse of all its peers.

Some 300 languages are spoken in schools across the capital, dwarfing the estimated 176 languages spoken in New York public (State) schools.

But could this amazing diversity herald the death of the famous cockney dialect?

Cited as far back as the 16th Century, the cockney dialect is as much a part of the history and fabric of London as the Tower of London, red buses and black cabs.

Traditionally, a true cockney had to be born within earshot of the Bow Bells at St Mary-le-Bow church in Cheapside, which recent testing proved was four miles to the west, six miles to the east, five miles to the north and three miles to the south.

Regardless of the official ‘rule’, the cockney dialect is more associated with the east end of London, mostly due to the mistaken assumption that Bow Bells are to be found in the district of Bow.

Over time as residents of the east end moved out to Essex and the Home Counties, they took with them their dialect, leading to the term Estuary English to describe the dialect that spread out of London.

However, linguists have now determined that the source is soon to completely disappear, ending a dialect and accent with over 500 years of history.

A recent study suggests that within 25 years the cockney dialect will completely disappear from the streets of London and be replaced by Multicultural London English (MLE) – a mixture of Cockney, Bangladeshi and West Indian accents.

MLE is often unkindly dubbed ‘Jafaican’ which linguists have begun to reject as it implies a certain level of affectation as opposed to a genuine accent and dialect.

With an incredible mixture of Cockney, Caribbean Patois and South Asian speech, MLE has developed its own distinctive slang terms and speech patterns.

The most surprising aspect is how rapidly the dialect has spread with children developing a hugely different dialect and accent to their parents.

While accent and dialect changes are a natural occurrence over time, there’s never been such a rapid and widespread change in the natural evolution of language as we are seeing now in London; a truly fascinating time for linguists.

London has a long history of diversity; immigrants have found their home in London for hundreds of years with the first noticeable wave coming from almost 50,000 Huguenots escaping persecution in France and settling in the Spitalfields area during the 17th Century.

Such was their impact that it is believed a quarter of London’s population today have Huguenot ancestry of some degree.

At the same time the growth of the East India Company brought thousands of South Asian scholars, lascars and other essential workers to London, many of whom found themselves stranded in London when return voyages never materialised.

The post second world war years saw a large influx of migrants from Commonwealth countries encouraged by the British government to fill essential roles in both the transport industry and hospitals.

Over recent years, the free movement directive of the EU has seen a steady flow of EU migrants in and out of the capital.

While Polish is the most spoken language in the capital after English, India provides the largest number of foreign-born residents in London. Jump on any London bus and chances are you’ll overhear snippets of conversation in Bengali, Punjabi, Turkish and French.

This amazing mix of cultures has had an incredible impact on the social and cultural life of the city; you’ll be hard pressed to find a global cuisine not in evidence somewhere in London or a world cultural event not celebrated.

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