Life > MLE – East London’s new language

Posted on October 11, 2017

Image courtesy of Cory Doctorow via flickr

Dimi Dyakova discusses why Standard English is continually transforming and evolving
The language used in the UK is not just the Standard English you would expect. The UK is a mixture of languages, cultures and ethnicities, which when combined, produce a new ‘language’ called Multicultural London English (MLE).

To talk about the English language, we must also take into consideration its alternative languages, for example Cockney rhyming slang. Cockney slang has been used in London for years, but what is interesting is the variation of English, which is replacing it. MLE is the new language mainly spoken by working class young people in London (specifically in the East end).

What is interesting about this ‘language’ is that in just a matter of years, its influence has been so great that it is now replacing Cockney slang, which has been around for more than 500 years. In fact, Cockney is now being transformed into a hybrid language. As a mixture of ethnicities living in London learned English as their second language, they are now leaving their fingerprints on the new forms of English that are currently evolving.

These different cultures bring distinctive features to Standard English. They change its lexis, grammar, and even discourse altogether. This has been viewed by some as troublesome and even disgraceful. MLE is indeed something new and scary for some. They may even see it as a threat to common Standard English, but I say that change is not always a bad thing.

MLE actually updates our vocabulary, it gives the youth a new language to use, it creates a shared sense of belonging, it gives rise to a new dialect and well…it really shakes up ordinary English.

MLE actually updates our vocabulary, it gives the youth a new language to use

Research for the BBC Voices project shows that in East London, namely Tower Hamlets youths are speaking in a dialect combining Bangladeshi and Cockney influences. This reflects population changes in the area, as young white British people are adopting words from their Bangladeshi and Pakistani friends. The language people in London are using is becoming even more exciting and diverse, and in my opinion, this is good.

Professor David Crystal, says “Over the last 50 years or so we have seen an increasing cultural diversification across the country. Accents are a reflection of society and as society changes so accents change.”

While different Asian ethnicities were influencing East London, the Cockney accent itself had shifted to towns around the capital. In areas such as Essex and Hertfordshire, the accent and culture continue to thrive and many teenagers still proudly claim their Cockney roots.

This shows that language is changing in terms of both structure and location. However, this is not something negative. It shows that the English language is flexible, active and adjusting. An example of this is Jamaican Patois. It is a language, which has embedded itself in the UK culture, and it is made up of Standard English forms mixed together with Jamaican sounds and lexis.

Over the years, a degree of ‘crossing’ was evident. This meant that young white youths started using Jamaican English (or Patois) when talking to their black friends. Over time, Patois became even more widely used and white youths started applying it to their everyday language even without being in the presence of a black peer group.

The English language is flexible, active and adjusting

Ben Rampton, a linguistics professor, identified the change in attitudes and argued that using Patois was seen as “cool, tough and good to use”. Rampton also argued that Jamaican Patois was “associated with assertive, verbal resourcefulness, competence in heterosexual relationships and oppositions to authorities”.

In simplified terms, it was used as an act of rebellion. This was due to the fact that youths felt they were mocked and neglected by society. Therefore Patois gave young people a feeling of social cohesion, uniting them and creating a shared sense of belonging. Rampton’s argument also suggests that speaking in Patois was seen as something positive, as it gave males a feeling of masculinity.

All of the topics and examples raised show why new forms of English, be they Cockney, Patios or MLE, make a positive contribution to both the UK society, and the English language.

Mick Ord, BBC Voices Project Director stated: “The only language that doesn’t change is a dead language. English language is changing all the time and no more so than today with new influences and young people of many ethnic backgrounds mixing together in our inner cities. It is fascinating to discover how much the ‘Tower Hamlets effect’ is happening in other parts of the UK.

The positive effects of language changes show we should not demean new English forms simply because they are different or they are not what we are used to. Instead, we should see this as something positive and be willing to accept change with open minds.

Dimi Dyakova
Dimi is a student at Winchmore School. She loves writing, reading books and listening to music. She would like to develop her passion into a career as a journalist or writer one day.

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Exposure is an award-winning youth communications charity giving young people in north London a voice. Please support us to continue our work. Thank you.


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