The term cockney has had several distinct geographical, social, and linguistic associations. Originally a pejorative term applied to all city-dwellers, it was gradually restricted to Londoners, and particularly to "Bow-bell Cockneys": those born within earshot of Bow Bells, the bells of St Mary-le-Bow in the Cheapside district of the City of London. It eventually came to be used to refer to those in London's East End, or to all working-class Londoners generally.
Cockney English is the accent or dialect of English traditionally spoken by working-class Londoners. In the 1980s, some features of cockney became more frequent in broadcasting, and the media began to speak of a new standard called Estuary English, but most linguists rejected this analysis and the term is less frequently used now.English%20Phonetics%20and%20Phonol]]
The earliest recorded use of the term is 1362 in passus VI of William Langland's Piers Plowman, where it is used to mean "a small, misshapen egg", from Middle English coken + ey ("a cock's egg"). Concurrently, the mythical land of luxury Cockaigne (attested from 1305) appeared under a variety of spellings, including Cockayne, Cocknay, and Cockney, and became humorously associated with the English capital London.
The present meaning of cockney comes from its use among rural Englishmen (attested in 1520) as a pejorative term for effeminate town-dwellers, from an earlier general sense (encountered in "The Reeve's Tale" of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales c. 1386) of a "cokenay" as "a child tenderly brought up" and, by extension, "an effeminate fellow" or "a milksop". This may have developed from the sources above or separately, alongside such terms as "cock" and "cocker" which both have the sense of "to make a nestle-cock... or darling of", "to indulge or pamper".Fynes Moryson Itineraryhin the sound of Bow Bells, are in reproach called Cockneys." The same year, John Minsheu included the term in this newly restricted sense in his dictionary Ductor in Linguas.
The region in which cockneys are thought to reside is not clearly defined.
The terms “East End of London” and “within the sound of bow bells” are used interchangeably, and the bells are a symbol of East End identity.
A study was carried out by the City in 2000 to see how far away Bow Bells could be heard, and it was estimated that the bells would have been heard up to six miles to the east, five miles to the north, three miles to the south, and four miles to the west. According to the legend of Dick Whittington the bells could once be heard from as far away as the Highgate Archway (4.5 miles north). The traditional core districts of the East End are Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Stepney, Wapping, Limehouse, Poplar, Haggerston, Aldgate, Shoreditch, Millwall, Cubitt Town, Hackney, Hoxton, Bow and Mile End. "The Borough" to the south of Waterloo, London and Tower Bridge were also considered cockney before redevelopment all but extinguished the local working-class areas, and now Bermondsey is the only cockney area south of the River Thames, although Pearly Kings and Queens can be found as far out as Peckham and Penge. The Pearly Kings are a famous East End institution, but that perception is wide of the mark as they are found in many places across London. The area north of the Thames gradually expanded to include East Ham, Stratford, West Ham and Plaistow as more land was built upon.
Writing in 1981, the dialectologist Peter Wright identified the building of the Becontree estate near Dagenham in Essex as influential in the spread of cockney dialect. This very large estate was built by the Corporation of London to house poor residents of London's East End on what was previously a rural area of Essex, and the residents generally kept their native cockney dialect rather than adopt an Essex dialect. Wright also reports that cockney dialect spread along the main railway routes to towns in the surrounding counties as early as 1923, and cockney then spread further after World War II as many refugees left London owing to the bombing, but continued to speak cockney in their new homes.
- Jonny Lee Miller (actor)
- James G. Baily (tailor, later dressmaker, born Percy George Baily, in Canning Town London)
- Danny Baker (broadcaster, born in Deptford)
- Michael Caine (actor, born as Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, Jr., 14 March 1933, in Rotherhithe)
- Alfie Bass actor from Bethnal Green.
- Charlie Chaplin (comic actor, filmmaker, and composer, 16 April, 1889, born in Walworth, London)
- Chas and Dave (pop duo with a cockney pub singalong style known as "Rockney")
- Alan Ford, (actor, born in Walworth)
- Steve Harley (musician, frontman of the band Cockney Rebel, born in Deptford)
- Shani Wallis (English-American Actress, Born in Tottenham, Middlesex, England.) (Now resides in California) Known for her strong Cockney Accent as Nancy in the 1968 Classic "Oliver!"
- Hoxton Tom McCourt, musician, face, born in Shoreditch and lived in Hoxton
- Lenny McLean, bare knuckle/unlicensed boxer, actor, born in Hoxton
- Claude Rains, the actor born in Camberwell in 1889 became famous after abandoning his heavy cockney accent and developing a unique Mid-Atlantic accent described as "half American, half English and a little Cockney thrown in".
- Harry Redknapp (former footballer and manager born in Poplar)
- Tommy Steele (1950s pop and film artist, born in Bermondsey)
- Simon Harris, music producer, born in Warren Street London within 2.4 miles of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow.
- Kray twins, criminals, born in Hoxton and lived in Bethnal Green
- Barbara Windsor actress born in Shoreditch, London
- Ray Winstone (actor, born in Homerton)
- Ian Dury (musician with cockney accent and lyrics based on the East End and Essex. Born in Harrow. but grew up in Upminster, East London)
- Arthur Smith (comedian from Bermondsey)
- Mick Healy (unsuccessful footballer and musician born in Mile End Hospital, Stepney)
- Mickey Flanagan (comedian from Whitechapel)
- Bobby George (darts champion born in Manor Park)
- Eric Bristow (darts champion born in Hackney. Nicknamed the "Crafty Cockney" while playing in an American bar with that name)
- Roger Bisby (journalist, born in City of London)
- Dom Littlewood (television presenter, from Southend-on-Sea, evidence of the migration of the accent eastwards along the Thames estuary)
- Len Goodman (ballroom dancer and television personality from Bethnal Green)
- Derek Jameson (journalist and broadcaster from Hackney)
Writing in 1981, the dialectologist Peter Wright gave some examples of then-contemporary Cockney speakers:
- Harry Champion, music-hall singer and comedian
- Henry Cooper, boxer
- Jack Dash, trade unionist
- Warren Mitchell, known for playing Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part. Wright wrote that "the dialect is quite genuine" in the series.
Use in films
- Many of Ken Loach's early films were set in London. Loach has a reputation for using genuine dialect speakers in films: 3 Clear Sundays Up the Junction Cathy Come Home Poor Cow
- Sparrows Can't Sing. The film had to be subtitled when released in the United States owing to difficulties with audience comprehension.
- Bronco Bullfrog. The film's tagline was "Cockney youth - with English subtitles".
- The Long Good Friday. The DVD of this film has an extra feature that explains the rhyming slang used.
- My Fair Lady
- A Clockwork Orange
- Mary Poppins (and featuring Dick Van Dyke's infamous approximation of a Cockney accent)
- Mary Poppins Returns (with Lin Manuel Miranda, who plays Jack, stating "If they [the audience] didn't like Dick's accent, they'll be furious with mine")
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) — Mrs Nellie Lovett and Tobias Ragg have Cockney accents.
- Passport to Pimlico
- Cockneys vs Zombies
Migration and evolution
A dialectological study of Leytonstone in 1964 (then in Essex) found that the area's dialect was very similar to that recorded in Bethnal Green by Eva Sivertsen but there were still some features that distinguished Leytonstone speech from cockney.
Linguistic research conducted in the early 2010s suggests that today, certain elements of cockney English are declining in usage within the East End of London and the accent has migrated to Outer London and the Home Counties. In parts of London's East End, some traditional features of cockney have been displaced by a Jamaican Creole-influenced variety popular among young Londoners (sometimes referred to as "Jafaican"), particularly, though far from exclusively, those of Afro-Caribbean descent. Nevertheless, the glottal stop, double negatives, and the vocalisation of the dark L (and other features of cockney speech), along with some rhyming slang terms are still in common usage.
An influential July 2010 report by Paul Kerswill, Professor of Sociolinguistics at Lancaster University, Multicultural London English: the emergence, acquisition and diffusion of a new variety, predicted that the cockney accent will disappear from London's streets within 30 years. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said that the accent, which has been around for more than 500 years, is being replaced in London by a new hybrid language. "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", Prof Kerswill said.
Conversely, migration of cockney speakers has led to migration of the dialect.
The dialect eventually moved out of inner-city London towards the outskirts of suburban London and into the Home Counties — in particular the London Borough of Havering and many parts of Essex county. Today Cockney-speaking areas include parts of Ilford, Dagenham, Barking, Billericay, Brentwood, Romford, Chigwell, Cheshunt, Brimsdown, Loughton, Harlow, Basildon, Thurrock.
Cockney speakers have a distinctive accent and dialect, and occasionally use rhyming slang. The Survey of English Dialects took a recording from a long-time resident of Hackney, and the BBC made another recording in 1999 which showed how the accent had changed.
John Camden Hotten, in his Slang Dictionary of 1859, makes reference to "their use of a peculiar slang language" when describing the costermongers of London's East End. In terms of other slang, there are also several borrowings from Yiddish, including kosher (originally Hebrew, via Yiddish, meaning legitimate) and stumm (/ʃtʊm/ originally German, via Yiddish, meaning quiet), as well as Romany, for example wonga (meaning money, from the Romany "wanga" meaning coal), and cushty (Kushty) (from the Romany kushtipen, meaning good). A fake cockney accent is sometimes called mockney.
- As with many accents of the United Kingdom, cockney is non-rhotic. A final -er is pronounced [ə] or lowered [ɐ] in broad cockney. As with all or nearly all non-rhotic accents, the paired lexical sets COMMA and LETTER, PALM/BATH and START, THOUGHT and NORTH/FORCE, are merged. Thus, the last syllable of words such as cheetah can be pronounced [ɐ] as well in broad cockney.
- Broad /ɑː/ is used in words such as bath, path, demand. This originated in London in the 16th–17th centuries and is also part of Received Pronunciation (RP).
- T-glottalisation: use of the glottal stop as an allophone of /t/ in various positions, Richard Whiteing]] spelt "Hyde Park" as Liked light can be homophones. "Clapham" can be said as Cla'am (i. e., [ˈkl̥ɛʔm̩]). /t/ may also be flapped intervocalically, e.g. utter [ˈɐɾə]. London /p, t, k/ are often aspirated in intervocalic and final environments, e.g., upper [ˈɐpʰə], utter [ˈɐtʰə], rocker [ˈɹɒkʰə], up [ɐʔpʰ], out [æə̯ʔtʰ], rock [ɹɒʔkʰ], where RP is traditionally described as having the unaspirated variants. Also, in broad cockney at least, the degree of aspiration is typically greater than in RP, and may often also involve some degree of affrication [pᶲʰ, tˢʰ, kˣʰ]. Affricatives may be encountered in initial, intervocalic, and final position. This feature results in cockney being often mentioned in textbooks about Semitic languages while explaining how to pronounce the glottal stop.
- Th-fronting: /θ/ can become [f] in any environment. [fɪn] "thin", [mɛfs] "maths". /ð/ can become [v] in any environment except word-initially when it can be [ð, ð̞, d, l, ʔ, ∅]. [dæɪ] "they", [ˈbɒvə] "bother".
- Yod-coalescence in words such as tune [tʃʰʉːn] or reduce [ɹɪˈdʒʉːs] (compare traditional RP [ˈtjuːn, ɹɪˈdjuːs]).
- The alveolar stops /t/, /d/ are often omitted in informal cockney, in non-prevocalic environments, including some that cannot be omitted in Received Pronunciation. Examples include [ˈdæzɡənə] Dad's gonna and [ˈtɜːn ˈlef] turn left.
- H-dropping. Sivertsen considers that [h] is to some extent a stylistic marker of emphasis in cockney.
- Diphthong alterations: /iː/ → [əi~ɐi]: [bəiʔ] "beet" /eɪ/ → [æɪ~aɪ]: [bæɪʔ] "bait" /aɪ/ → [ɑɪ] or even [ɒɪ] in "vigorous, dialectal" cockney.
- Other vowel differences include /æ/ may be [ɛ] or [ɛɪ], with the latter occurring before voiced consonants, particularly before /d/: [bɛk] "back", [bɛːɪd] "bad" /ɛ/ may be [eə], [eɪ], or [ɛɪ] before certain voiced consonants, particularly before /d/: [beɪd] "bed" /ɒ/ may be a somewhat less open [ɔ]: [kʰɔʔ] "cot" /ɑː/ has a fully back variant, qualitatively equivalent to cardinal 5, which Beaken (1971) claims characterises "vigorous, informal" cockney. /ɜː/ is on occasion somewhat fronted and/or lightly rounded, giving cockney variants such as [ɜ̟ː], [œ̈ː]. /ʌ/ → [ɐ̟] or a quality like that of cardinal 4, [a]: [dʒamʔˈtˢapʰ] "jumped up" /ɔː/ → [oː] or a closing diphthong of the type [oʊ~ɔo] when in non-final position, with the latter variants being more common in broad cockney: [soʊs] "sauce"-"source", [loʊd] "lord", [ˈwoʊʔə] "water" /ɔː/ → [ɔː] or a centring diphthong/triphthong of the type [ɔə~ɔuə] when in final position, with the latter variants being more common in broad cockney; thus [sɔə] "saw"-"sore"-"soar", [lɔə] "law"-"lore", [wɔə] "war"-"wore". The diphthong is retained before inflectional endings, so that board and pause can contrast with bored [bɔəd] and paws [pʰɔəz]. /ɔə/ has a somewhat tenser onset than the cardinal /ɔ/, that is [ɔ̝ə]. /əʊ/ becomes something around [ɒʊ~ɔo] or even [aɤ] in broad cockney before dark l. These variants are retained when the addition of a suffix turns the dark l clear. Thus a phonemic split has occurred in London English, exemplified by the minimal pair wholly [ˈhɒʊli] vs. holy [ˈhɐɤ̈li]. The development of L-vocalisation (see next section) leads to further pairs such as sole-oul[sɒʊ] vs. so-sew[sɐɤ̈], bowl[bɒʊ] vs. Bow[bɐɤ̈], shoulder[ˈʃɒʊdə] vs. odour [ˈɐɤ̈də], while associated vowel neutralisations may make dolla homophone of dole, compare dough [dɐɤ̈]. All this reinforces the phonemic nature of the opposition and increases its functional load. It is now well-established in all kinds of London-flavoured accents, from broad cockney to near-RP. /ʊ/ in some words (particularly good) is central [ʊ̈]. In other cases, it is near-close near-back [ʊ], as in traditional RP.
- Vocalisation of dark L, hence [ˈmɪowɔː] for Millwall. The actual realisation of a vocalised /l/ is influenced by surrounding vowels and it may be realised as [u], [ʊ], [o] or [ɤ]. It is also transcribed as a semivowel [w] by some linguists, e.g., Coggle and Rosewarne. However, according to Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), the vocalised dark l is sometimes an unoccluded lateral approximant, which differs from the RP [ɫ] only by the lack of the alveolar contact. Relatedly, there are many possible vowel neutralisations and absorptions in the context of a following dark L ([ɫ]) or its vocalised version; these include: In broad cockney, and to some extent in general popular London speech, a vocalised /l/ is entirely absorbed by a preceding /ɔː/: e.g., salt and sortecome homophones (although the contemporary pronunciation of salt /sɒlt/ would prevent this from happening), and likewise fault-ought-fort, pause-Paul's, Morden-Malden, water-Walter. Sometimes such pairs are kept apart, in more deliberate speech at least, by a kind of length difference: [ˈmɔʊdn̩] Mordenvs. [ˈmɔʊːdn̩] Malden. A preceding /ə/ is also fully absorbed into vocalised /l/. The reflexes of earlier /əl/ and earlier /ɔː(l)/ are thus phonetically similar or identical; speakers are usually ready to treat them as the same phoneme. Thus awfulcan best be regarded as containing two occurrences of the same vowel, /ˈɔːfɔː/. The difference between musicaland music-hall, in an H-dropping broad cockney, is thus nothing more than a matter of stress and perhaps syllable boundaries. With the remaining vowels a vocalised /l/ is not absorbed, but remains phonetically present as a back vocoid in such a way that /Vl/ and /V/ are kept distinct. The clearest and best-established neutralisations are those of /ɪ~iː~ɪə/ and /ʊ~uː~ʊə/. Thus rill, reel and reall together in cockney as [ɹɪɤ]; while full and foolre [foʊ~fʊu] and may rhyme with cruel [ˈkʰɹʊu]. Before clear (i.e., prevocalic) /l/ the neutralisations do not usually apply, thus [ˈsɪli] silly but [ˈsɪilɪn] ceiling-ealing, [ˈfʊli] fullybut [ˈfʊulɪn] fooling. In some broader types of cockney, the neutralisation of /ʊ~uː~ʊə/ before non-prevocalic /l/ may also involve /ɔː/, so that fallbecomes homophonous with fulland fool [fɔo]. The other pre-/l/ neutralisation which all investigators agree on is that of /æ~eɪ~aʊ/. Thus, Saland salecan be merged as [sæɤ], failand fowlas [fæɤ], and Val, vale-veiland vowelas [væɤ]. The typical pronunciation of railwayis [ˈɹæʊwæɪ]. According to Siversten, /ɑː/ and /aɪ/ can also join in this neutralisation. They may on the one hand neutralise with respect to one another, so that snarland smilerhyme, both ending [-ɑɤ], and Child's Hillis in danger of being mistaken for Charles Hill; or they may go further into a fivefold neutralisation with the one just mentioned, so that pal, pale, foul, snarl and pileall end in [-æɤ]. But these developments are evidently restricted to broad cockney, not being found in London speech in general. A neutralisation discussed by Beaken (1971) and Bowyer (1973), but ignored by Siversten (1960), is that of /ɒ~əʊ~ʌ/. It leads to the possibility of doll, dole and dullbecoming homophonous as [dɒʊ] or [da̠ɤ]. Wells' impression is that the doll-doleneutralisation is rather widespread in London, but that involving dullless so. One further possible neutralisation in the environment of a following non-prevocalic /l/ is that of /ɛ/ and /ɜː/, so that well and whirl become homophonous as [wɛʊ].
- Cockney has been occasionally described as replacing /ɹ/ with /w/.
- An unstressed final -ow may be pronounced [ə]. In broad cockney this can be lowered to [ɐ]. This is common to most traditional, Southern English dialects except for those in the West Country.
- Grammatical features: Use of me instead of my, for example, "At's me book you got 'ere". It cannot be used when "my" is emphasised; e.g., "At's my book you got 'ere" (and not "their"). Use of ain't
- Use of double negatives, for example "I didn't see nuffink".
By the 1980s and 1990s, most of the features mentioned above had partly spread into more general south-eastern speech, giving the accent called Estuary English; an Estuary speaker will use some but not all of the cockney sounds.
The cockney accent has long been looked down upon and thought of as inferior by many.
Studies have indicated that the heavy use of South East England accents on television and radio may be the cause of the spread of cockney English since the 1960s. Cockney is more and more influential and some claim that in the future many features of the accent may become standard.
Studies have indicated that working-class adolescents in areas such as Glasgow have begun to use certain aspects of cockney and other Anglicisms in their speech. infiltrating the traditional Glasgow patter. For example, TH-fronting is commonly found, and typical Scottish features such as the postvocalic /r/ are reduced. Research suggests the use of English speech characteristics is likely to be a result of the influence of London and South East England accents featuring heavily on television, such as the popular BBC One soap opera Eastenders. However, such claims have been criticised.
Certain features of cockney – Th-frontingL-vocalisationT-glottalisation nd and, to a lesser extent, to other areas of Britain. However, Clive Upton has noted that these features have occurred independently in some other dialects, such as TH-fronting in Yorkshire and L-vocalisation in parts of Scotland.
The term Estuary English has been used to describe London pronunciations that are slightly closer to RP than cockney. The variety first came to public prominence in an article by David Rosewarne in the Times Educational Supplement in October 1984. Rosewarne argued that it may eventually replace Received Pronunciation in the south-east. The phonetician John C. Wells collected media references to Estuary English on a website . Writing in April 2013, Wells argued that research by Joanna Przedlacka "demolished the claim that EE was a single entity sweeping the southeast. Rather, we have various sound changes emanating from working-class London speech, each spreading independently".