Cockney Slang: Modern History and Position

    Cockney is one of the most famous slang of the English language, which in the XIX and even in the XX century was very popular among certain sections of the population of Britain and in particular London. But what is happening with him today? Why do some linguists say Cockney is dying? Let's see.

    What is a Cockney: a little history

    Cockney is one of the variants of the English language, which has been used since the Middle Ages.

    The term itself is quite old - it is first found in literature in 1362 in the work of William Langland's “Plowman” (William Langland “Plowman”).

    The term “cockney” is translated as “cock egg” (“cock” - English “rooster”, “ey” - cf. English “egg”). In the Middle Ages, the so-called deformed and underdeveloped chicken eggs were called - it was believed that such eggs were laid by a rooster.

    Later, this word began to denote people who were born and raised in cities. The villagers believed that the townspeople were weaker because they worked less.

    In the XVII century, the meaning of the word approached the modern - this is how the inhabitants of London, who lived in the City area, began to be called. John Misha, in the book “Ductor in linguas” (1617), wrote: “Cockney, applied only to those born under the sounds of the Bow-bell, that is, in the City of London”. But then the designation was also offensive.

    Already by the 18th century, two completely different language models had spread in London. In the West End dominated the so-called "polite pronunciation" - gentleman's English. And in the East End - cockney. So they began to call not only people, but also the slang they spoke.

    Cockney Phonetic Features

    The pronunciation and sound of the Cockney is quite different from literary or “standard” English. This slang is characterized by deliberate distortion of sounds and the replacement of individual words with rhymed analogs - in fact, precisely because of this, Cockney has been called rhymed slang.

    Let's understand the typical features of speech:

    1. Sound skip [h] - for example, "'alf" instead of "half" or "' Ampton" instead of "Hampton".
    2. Use ain't instead of "am not" or "isn't."
    3. Pronunciation of sound [θ] as [f]. For example, “frust” instead of “thurst” or “faasn'd” instead of “thousand”.
    4. The pronunciation of the sound [ð] as [v]. For example, “bover” instead of “bother”.
    5. The pronunciation of diphthong [aʊ] as [æ:]. For example, “down” is pronounced “dæ: n”.
    6. Pass doubled [t] with the use of the guttural bow. For example, “cattle” is pronounced [kæ'l].
    7. Use non-emphasized [l] as a vowel. For example, Millwall is pronounced miowɔː.

    One of the most interesting features is the use of rhymed slang. When words in a sentence are replaced by words or phrases that form a rhyme with those replaced.

    Here are some examples of how to replace words in the style of Cockney:

    Believe - Adam and Eve.
    Do you Adam and Eve him? - Do you believe him?

    Appendix - Jimi Hendrix.
    I just 'ad my Jimi Hendrix taken out! - I just had an appendix removed.

    Tea - You and Me.
    Do you want a cup of you and me? - Want a cup of tea?

    Sense - Eighteen pence.
    He hasn't got Eighteen pence! - Yes, he has no brains!

    In some cases, the second, rhyming part of the phrase is omitted altogether, which is why it was extremely difficult to understand the true meaning.

    Try to guess for yourself what the following phrases mean:

    1. Hello, my old China.
    2. Take a Butcher's at this!
    3. Lend me a few pound please, I'm complete Boratic.
    4. Get your Plates off the table!

    If you could not guess, here is a transcript for you.

    Hello, my old China.
    China = China and plate = mate.
    Hi, my old buddy.

    Take a Butcher's at this!
    Butcher's = Butcher's hook = look.
    Look at it!

    Lend me a few pound please, I'm complete Boratic.
    Boratic = Boratic lint = skint.
    Lend me a couple of pounds, please, I don’t have any money at all.

    Get your Plates off the table!
    Plates = Plates of meat = feet.
    Get your feet off the table!

    Often this method of reduction is used only for well-known lexemes, which are often used in conversations. Otherwise, there is a possibility that the interlocutor simply does not understand the reference and he will have to explain it with the usual human language. (What a horror!)

    Modern cockney

    It was because of the rhyming of words in the 19th century that Cockney was often associated with a code language of criminals. And it was then that Cockney was transformed from a narrowly localized slang into a language that is spoken almost throughout Southeast England.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, the Cockney went beyond the borders of London and began to spread to the nearest locations. Especially this type of slang was popular in such counties as Essex and Bedfordshire. Most carriers of Cockney were people working specialty, without much education.

    Thanks to television, Cockney is distributed throughout England. However, the concentration of carriers in the southeast is still the highest.

    First of all, the popularity of Cockney is due to such TV shows as “Steptoe and Son” (1962-1974), “Minder” (1979-1994), “Porridge” (1974-1977), “Only Fools and Horses” (1983-2003).

    As an example, see one of the Steptoe and Son sitcom series. A person who studies English as a foreign language will find it extremely difficult to perceive such a language by ear, even with a high level of knowledge. And we warn you, the humor there is very, very dull, specific:

    Since the 1980s, the number of people who speak cockney in Britain has begun to increase. It was mainly used by young people who wanted to stand out in society and emphasize their individuality through the use of idiomatic expressions.

    There were even attempts to somehow consolidate slang at the legislative level, but they all failed.

    In our time, the development of the Cockney has slowed down, and the number of people talking to him has decreased. Apparently, young people who began to speak it under the influence of TV programs, eventually switched to standard English.

    However, native speakers emit as many as 3 types of cockney:

    • Classic Cockney. He appeals more to grammar and pronunciation of words. In fact, this is the heir to the original Cockney, who was told in the East End 300 years ago. Naturally, it changed under the influence of Standard English, but the main phonetic features remained.
    • Modern Cockney. It is the version of the language that TV programs have popularized. It contains slightly less phonetic differences from standard English, but much more rhymed word substitutions. About these borrowings a little lower.
    • Mockney The so-called fake Cockney. Artificial accent, phonetically similar to Cockney. It is used by native English speakers as a language game or a parody of the classic Cockney.

    The modern Cockney linguistically develops rather weakly - the absolute majority of rhymed substitutions (96%) were created before the XIX century.

    Today, new Cockney phrases are created primarily using the names of famous people.

    • Al Capone - telephone;
    • Conan Doyle - boil;
    • Britney Spears - beers;
    • Brad Pitt - fit;
    • Barack Obama - pajamas;
    • Jackie Chan - plan.

    Hey, haven't you seen my working Jackie Chan?
    Hey, have you seen my work plan?
    Most of the lexical units that are used now in Cockney are not of a historical nature, but are used only as a language game. In fact, the main task of the speaker is to create verbal reflection, which causes associations through the formation of rhythm and rhyme with the replaced word.

    If you look at the historical aspect, slang turned from a specific code language, which was Cockney in the XVII-XIX centuries, into a kind of wordplay, where using puns simply demonstrates the individuality of native speakers. The real carriers of Cockney are becoming less and less, despite the fact that some phonetic features of the dialect are still very common.

    As an example of a classic Cockney accent, let's look at the interview with Steve Harris, the bassist of Iron Maiden, who was born in Lyonstone:

    It is clearly heard that the word “thing” Steve speaks through the sound [f], and not through [θ]. And he says “down” like [dæ: n]. In addition, there are noticeable omissions of sounds [t] and [d] in words with the endings -ing and the consonant t or d in front of it - for example, building and starting. In general, the speech sounds quite comfortable and understandable, even for a person who studies English as a foreign language, but it should be borne in mind that Steve Harris uses only part of the phonemes that are inherent in Cockney and, of course, does not use rhymed substitutions at all.

    The future of the Cockney dialect is rather misty. Linguistic researchers have several versions of what will happen to the Cockney dialect in the future.

    David Crystal, a professor of linguistics at the University of Bangor, argues that the complete disappearance of the Cockney dialect is quite possible, but its significance indicates that the impulse that causes us to rhyme words still has a rather large influence. Perhaps that is why the classic Cockney is transformed from a dialect into a linguistic game.

    At the same time, separate phonemes from the Cockney dialect are used extremely widely. The same professor Kristall found out in his research that up to 93% of Bradford residents from working layers omit the sound [h] in a conversation - especially at the beginning of a word. That is, instead of "ham" they say "'am".

    As for the future of Cockney, Paul Kersville, a professor of sociolinguistics at the University of Lancaster, is more categorical. He believes that Cockney has disappeared from the streets of London over the next 30 years and will be replaced by "multicultural London English, that is, a mixture of Cockney, Bangladeshi and Caribbean accents."

    Despite the fact that some expressions from the slang of Cockney are rooted in the English language as phraseological units, and some phonemes are used almost everywhere, carriers of the classic Cockney are becoming less and less. So yes, it is quite possible that very soon (on a historical scale) to hear a real Cockney from a native speaker will be simply unrealistic. - online English learning platform

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