Jafaican and Tikkiny drown out the East End's Cockney twang

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The Independent Online

The fading call of the old cockney sparrow is due in part to immigration to an area synonymous with new arrivals to Britain, according to Sue Fox of London University's Queen Mary College. It is also caused by the post-war exodus from east London of the traditional white working-class to the lush green pastures of Basildon and Harlow.

The result is the growing influence of words like nang, nuff and diss, which while they may leave the average middle-class observer baffled, are forming an accepted code among the new generation of real-life East Enders. It is also causing the virtual disappearance among London teenagers of speech patterns dating back to the Victorian period and before.

The phenomenon, which has been variously described as "Jafaican" - a combination of Caribbean and African - or Tikkiny, in honour of the influence of Bengali in areas such as Tower Hamlets, is more properly referred to as "multicultural London English".

"We have got young people from many different ethnic backgrounds and have found that it is this blend that is responsible for the change. It is a move away from the traditional cockney speech form which was previously used by working-class Londoners," said Ms Fox.

But far from being an affectation by white children emulating what they regard as their "cooler" ethnic minority friends, or a response to the speech patterns used by popular television characters, such as Ali G, pictured above, it is a genuine linguistic trend.

"There is a certain amount of affectation in terms of vocabulary but in terms of accent we cannot claim the media has any influence. What we are finding is an accent used by people of all ethnic backgrounds," she said.

Ms Fox gathered evidence of the new accent during interviews and observation of 16- to 19-year-olds, many of them second or third-generation immigrants, at a further education college in east London. She believes the findings have important ramifications not just for the accent in the capital but for the supposed "levelling" of traditional accents around Britain.

The key change in east London is the disappearance of the diphthong - a long vowel sound which changes mid pronunciation from an "a" to an "i'', for example - as in the cockney "faice" for face. It has been replaced by a shorter vowel sound producing a word sounding like "fehs". "T-glottaling" - the swallowing of the "t" sound in words such as butter is less pronounced, the research found. The dropping of "h" - a common sign of what some have seen as a growing trend towards so-called "Estuary English" was also not as prevalent as expected.

Intriguingly it is boys rather than girls who are leading the change. The children are thought to be picking up the new way of speaking after they have left the direct influence of the family, starting at secondary school. Ms Fox plans to continue her research by observing the way that the youngsters' accents change over time as they leave school and go to work, and on the influence that American rap music is having on speech patterns.

David Roberts of the Queen's English Society said the move was part of the general development of language and should not be regarded as inferior to other codes so long as it was readily understandable to others. "The only purpose of language is to convey thoughts from inside one person's head to another as accurately and comprehensively as possible. Language must be able to adapt. If it hadn't we would all be addressing each other as thou and thee. You cannot put constraints on the development of language."

And as for that other celebrated East End linguistic export - cockney rhyming slang, Ms Fox believes that it is distinctly less authentic than the new multicultural code. "I'm not sure it ever was in everyday use - a lot of it came from the music hall."

How to speak Jafaican

* Creps training shoes

* Yard home

* Yoot child/children

* Blud/bredren/bruv mate

* Nang good (as in: "Rah, das nuff nang!" meaning "Wow, that's really good!")

* Ends area

* Low batties low-slung trousers

* Skets "loose" girls

* Bitch girlfriend

* Sick good

* Bare very, a lot (as in: "I'm bare hungry")

* Jamming hanging around

* Begging chatting rubbish

* Chat talk back/contradict (as in: "Don't chat to me!")

* Nuff really, very

* Diss to disrespect