April 12, 2006


Jonathan Brown at the Independent tells us that "Jafaican and Tikkiny drown out the East End's Cockney twang". Laura Clark at the Daily Mail worries that "'Jafaican' is wiping out inner-city English accents". At LSE (that's "Life Style Extra", not "London School of Economics"), the headline is "Cockney loses out to Jafaican". The Guardian offers to help us "Learn Jafaikan in two minutes". BBC Voices has an interview with one of the linguists responsible documenting these developments, under the title "A 'nang' new accent".

These are all echoes of an on-going study on Linguistic Innovators: The English of Adolescents in London, by Jenny Chesire and Sue Fox of Queen Mary College, University of London, and Paul Kerswill and Eivind Torgersen of Lancaster University.

I don't have much to add to what you can learn from the project overview and the publications available on the project website. I'll note that the news coverage focuses mainly on vocabulary, though there is some discussion of the sound changes involved. I'll also note that it's not clear to me whether this is a single trend or a set of related developments -- Sue Fox's BBC interview focuses on the influence of Bangladeshi pronunciations on the speech of Cockney youth, whereas some of the other news articles are mainly focused on influences of Jamaican English, which is very different. The sociolinguists seem to prefer the term "multicultural London English", which is less likely to mislead than "Jafaican" is, but also less likely to be adopted into ordinary usage, I'm afraid. To my disappointment, I've been unable to find any sound clips illustrating the trends -- surely in this multi-media age, someone can produce a few sound clips to back up all the textual verbiage! Write and tell me if you know of any -- or can produce your own, citizen-journalist style! (And I've already got plenty of Ali G clips -- I like Ali G, I'm just looking for some authentic examples.)

I'll also mention something that Sue Fox says in part of her BBC interview: among young people from a Cockney background, it's the boys who are leading the way towards the new multicultural blend, while the girls tend to hang on to Cockney features. This is the opposite of the usual pattern for sound change in progress, suggesting that the social dynamic has some special features in this case.

[Note that the spelling is sometimes Jafaican (Independent, Daily Mail) and sometimes Jafaikan (BBC, Guardian).]

[Hat tip to Abnu of Wordlab]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 12, 2006 05:32 PM