"Jafaican" sounds replace Cockney patter in London

Tue Jul 6, 2010 8:40am EDT
 
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By Deborah Cicurel

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A London arts center is compiling an archive of poetry and phrases in the city's historic Cockney dialect as a study shows the accent is being driven out of the capital by the multicultural 'Jafaican'. The study, by Paul Kerswill, Sociolinguistics Professor at Lancaster University, suggests that traditional Cockney is moving from London's streets to the nearby commuter areas of Essex and Hertfordshire.

"Cockney in the East End is now transforming itself into Multicultural London English, a new, melting-pot mixture of all those people living here who learnt English as a second language," said Kerswill.

The new dialect, termed 'Jafaican' in slang, or 'slanguage', is a hybrid of various languages and accents, created as a result of mass immigration and demographic changes in London's East End, the traditional Cockney heartland.

"Ever since the 1960s these areas of London have become home to immigrants from the West Indies, the Indian Subcontinent and many other places, from South America and Africa to Central Asia and the Far East," said Kerswill.

"This means that children were no longer learning their English dialect from local Cockney speakers, but from older teenagers who themselves had developed their English in the linguistic melting pot."

Cockney, which has been spoken in London for over 500 years, was immortalized by the 1964 film 'My Fair Lady', featuring Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins trying to rid Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle of her conspicuous accent. One of its features is the use of rhyming slang.

'Jafaican' can be heard in the voices of British rapper Dizzee Rascal and in comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's tongue-in-cheek creation Ali G.

The project will include a future spoken word event at London arts venue Kings Place, while the accumulated Cockney data will contribute to Kerswill's study, which will be published in 2011.

It also offers a downloadable Bow Bells chime, symbolic for generations of Cockney speakers - people were said to be truly Cockney if they were born within the sound of the bells of the East London Church of St Mary-le-Bow.