estuary english

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

ESTUARY ENGLISH, also Estuary. A term, coined in 1984 by the British phonetician David Rosewarne, a lecturer at Kingsway College, London, for a variety of English and in particular an accent common among younger people in and around LONDON. This appears to have been at first most noticeable in Essex and Kent, counties that lie immediately north and south of the Thames Estuary, hence the name. Not much discussed in the 1980s, the term and the phenomenon became hot media topics in London in the earlier 1990s, prompting among other things the laid-back pop-linguistic paperback Do You Speak Estuary? The New Standard English: How to Spot it and Speak it (Bloomsbury, 1993), written by Paul Coggle, a lecturer in German at the University of Kent. One result of the media and public interest has been the uncertain social status of the term and what it refers to; for some, Estuary is an intriguing and positive development; for others it is a deplorable departure from taste and tradition; for others still, whatever their outlook, it has immense social, linguistic, and educational implications for BrE at large.

Estuary is generally perceived as a compromise variety ranging between popular LONDON usage (especially COCKNEY) and RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION (RP); it is used by both upwardly mobile working-class south-easterners and younger people from public (that is, private) schools who wish to adapt away from the RP traditionally valued by their social class, perhaps, as both Rosewarne and Cottle suggest, in order to increase their ‘street-cred’ (slang abbreviation for street credibility, easy and confident familiarity with fashionable urban and especially youth culture). Rosewarne observes:
The heartland of this variety still lies by the banks of the Thames and its estuary, but it seems to be the most influential accent in the south-east of England. In the decade since I started research into it, Estuary English has spread northwards to Norwich and westwards to Cornwall, with the result that it is now spoken south of a line from the Wash to the Avon. It is also to be heard on the front and back benches of the House of Commons and is used by some members of the Lords, whether life or hereditary peers. Ken Livingstone M.P. was given in the first article in The Sunday Times on 14 March 1993 as an example of an Estuary speaker. Interviewed a couple of days later in The Daily Mail, he said he was pleased with the label, adding ‘I think it's true that this kind of dialect is emerging’. Tony Banks M.P., interviewed on the B.B.C. radio programme ‘Word of Mouth’ on 29 June 1993 reported that Estuary English is now spoken by Conservative members of Parliament as well as Labour. Lord Tebbit, cited by The Sunday Times as an Estuary speaker, reports in his recent biography Upwardly Mobile that Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had referred to him as a Cockney speaker. (‘Estuary English: tomorrow's RP?’, in English Today, 37, January 1994).

Estuary English is most easily identified in terms of accent, located towards the middle of a continuum between traditional RP and Cockney usage, particularly noticeable in the following three features: (1) The use of /w/ where RP has /l/, especially in syllable-final positions: ‘aw’ for all, ‘miwk’ for milk, St Paw's Cathedwaw for ‘ St Paul's Cathedral’. Such a pronunciation creates novel HOMOPHONES and may lead to misunderstanding, as when Estuary ‘fowty books’ might be understood as either forty books or faulty books. In addition, in some words /l/ disappears entirely, as in ‘vunnerable’ for vulnerable. (2) Use of GLOTTAL STOPS instead of the stop consonants /k, p, t/ in syllable-final positions: ‘te?nicaw’ for technical, ‘sto?’ for stop, ‘glo?aw’ for glottal. (3) The use of /i/ instead of /l/ in word-final position: ‘citee’ for city, ‘lovelee’ for lovely, ‘reallee’ for really.

At least the following three factors appear to be at work in propagating Estuary so widely and swiftly: (1) Demographics, in that large numbers of Londoners have migrated since the Second World War into the surrounding counties, including such new towns Harlow in Essex and Slough in Berkshire, where their usage has had greater prestige than the traditional dialects. (2) Radio and television, in which a wide range of accents has in recent decades become common on the BBC and in independent broadcasting, locally and nationally. (3) A move towards greater linguistic comfort and compromise. Rosewarne notes: ‘It is a shift to the middle ground of pronunciation. The R.P. speaker accommodates “downwards” and the local accent speaker accommodates “upwards”, resulting in accent convergence. Consequently, in all social groups in the South-East of England it has been, for at least a decade, common for young people to speak a rather different accent from older members of their families.’

views updated

Estuary English in the UK, a type of accent identified as spreading outwards from London and containing features of both received pronunciation and London speech.

More From