Cockney and Estuary English. A comparison

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006
26 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Cockney
2.1 Brief historic overview on Cockney
2.1.1 Dialect or accent
2.2 Overview on the most prominent features of Cockney
2.2.1 Phonetic features
2.2.2 Grammatical features
2.2.3 Rhyming Slang
2.3 Social perception
2.4 Conclusion

3. Estuary English
3.1 What is Estuary English?
3.2 Influences on Estuary English
3.2.1 Received Pronounciation
3.3 Typical features of EE
3.3.1 Lexical features
3.3.2 Phonetic features
3.4 Expansion of EE
3.4.1 Geographic expansion of EE
3.4.2 Social expansion
3.5 Conclusion

4. Comparison

5. References

Internet sources

1. Introduction

This essay aims at giving an overview on the two topics that will be briefly compared at its end: Cockney on the one hand and Estuary English on the other.

This comparison and combination results from the question in how far Cockney as one of the two main reference dialects of Estuary English has influenced this rather new accent.

Chapter II gives a historic account on Cockney and then moves on to its specific phonetic and grammatical features. Finally, its social perception is elaborated.

Chapter III starts with an attempt to explain to which phenomena the term Estuary English refers to and then continues with a description of the influential reference sources, as there are RP and Cockney at the antipodal ends. Furthermore some syntactic and phonetic features of EE are listed. The last paragraph gives an account on the geographical as well as the social expansion of EE.

Finally, Chapter IV gives a brief comparison of Estuary English and Cockney in terms of linguistic status, acceptability, mobility as well as social perception and furthermore draws a conclusion.

My research on Estuary English is based on two different sorts of texts: On the one hand I consulted the advanced layman Rosewarne, who coined the term Estuary English in the first place and who even claims that it could possibly become the new RP. On the other hand I worked with the critical, more recent, texts by two linguists: Ulrike Altendorf and Joanna Przedlacka, who investigate if a definite Estuary English exists in general. Futhermore, I used more sources on both Cockney and Estuary English which are given at the end of the essay.

2. Cockney

The term traditionally refers to the speech of those “ born within the sound of Bow bell, that is in the City of London”.[1] Here, to be born “within the sound” signifies the radius around the Curch of St Mary-le-Bow in the Eastside quarter of Cheapside, London, within which those bells can still be heard. This feature applies to a distance of approximately three miles.

As this defintion was given in 1617, the area of Cockney obvioulsy has spread: today the term Cockney is used for all speakers of this certain mode who live in the Home Counties, also often referred to as Greater London. This term applies to the counties surrounding the City of London, such as Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

The etymologic source of the term Cockney is not absolutely conclusive: On the one hand it is derived from the merger of the Old English terms cok and nay or (n)eye for egg, thus depicting a cock´s and therefore a small and imperfect egg[2], on the other hand there is an explanation that is derived from the Norman nickname for London which is claimed to have been the `Land of Sugar Cake´:

Chambers in his Journal derives the word from a French poem of the thirteenth century, called The Land of Cocagne, where the houses were made of barley-sugar and cakes, the streets paved with pastry, and the shops supplied goods without requiring money in payment. The French, at a very early period, called the English cocagne men, i.e. bons vivants (beef and pudding men).[3]

There is the possibility of a transformation from cocagne/ cocaigne to cockenay and then Cockney.

Almost every dictionary names Cockney to be the (obsolete) term for a spoiled child or a “squeamish woman”[4], beside the expression referring to the speech of an Eastend- Londoner.

If Cockney is derived from Middle English cocker which stands for pampering or fondling, the image of being spoiled obviously has an associative connection to the “Pais de cocaigne”. Nevertheless, “Wedgwood suggests cocker (to fondle), and says a cockerney or cockney is one pampered by city indulgence, in contradistinction to rustics hardened by outdoor work.”[5]

Following this definition, Cockney refers to the Londoners and both meanings have their seeds in the close connection to urban city life in the capital.

2.1 Brief historic overview on Cockney

The first account of the term can be found in Minsheu´s Ductor in Linguas which was published in 1617. Features of Cockney, especially those which have a typical Slang character can be found in numerous theater plays of the following decades until today. Shakespeare as well as George Bernard Shaw or Charles Dickens let some of their characters speak in a certain mode which is similar to Cockney.[6]

In spite of all these written documents it is controversial, how old Cockney in the present-day connotation of the word really is. It may be argued that these features which prevailed in the Cockney speech were typical Cockney since they occurred for the first time. On the other hand it is not unlikely that some individual speech characteristices were introduced to a basic form of London slang, out of which the contemporary Cockney was formed, as Brook formulates:

“There is no difficulty in finding early spellings which seem to represent pronounciations similar to those of modern Cockney; the difficulty lies in showing that they were Cockney characteristics at the time when they were used. Most of these early spellings seem to be individual eccentricities shared by Cockneys and by many writers who were not Cockneys”.[7]

As Brooks points out, most of the writers who created the accounts which are mentioned for literary Cockney were not Cockneys themselves and therefore the beginnings of Cockney remain unclear.

2.1.1 Dialect or accent

The historic ambiguity of Cockney requires a short excursus on the linguistic conditions of Cockney.

British rural dialects usually can proove a long ancestry, a characteristic that Cockney lacks.

Beside this rather secondary feature Cockney fulfills all other conditions which a dialect requires. To qualify for a dialect Trudgill names three main characteristics: the limitation to a certain geographical region, the speakers´ origin and the employment of signifying vocabulary as well as typical grammatical forms.[8]

In other words: “`Dialect, a broader term, refers to a set of phonological, lexical, morphological and syntactic features which make a up a variety of a language.”[9]

As the term accent mainly refers to a special way of pronounciation Cockney can clearly be depicted as a dialect.

2.2 Overview on the most prominent features of Cockney

The Cockney dialect in the broader sense of the term is subject to a rather high variability. The reasons for this can be found in the large area of London where it is spoken as well as in factors as education that have produced “many modifications of even the characteristic sounds.”[10]

Nevertheless, in the central Cockney- area of the Eastends the rather pure dialect still preserves.


[1] Minsheu John: Ductor in Linguas, 1617. Edited by Schäfer, Jürgen, Delmar: Scholars Facsimiles and Reprint, 1978.

[2] Cp. “Cockney” in: Webster´s Unabridged Dictionary, 1913:




[6] Here, only a few authors are mentioned: Shakspeare´s gravedigger in Hamlet shows features of Cockney,as well as Dicken´s “street- characters” or –last but not least- Eliza Dolittle in Shaw´s Pygmalion - possibly the most famous Cockney on stage.

[7] Brook, G.L.: English Dialects. London: Andre Deutsch, 1963. P.: 23.

[8] Cp.:Trudgill, Peter: Dialects. London: Routledge, 1994. P..7.

[9] Przedlacka, Joanna: Estuary English?: a sociophonetic study of teenage speech in the Home Counties. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag, 2002. At the same time Warsaw: University, Dissertation, 1999.

[10] Matthews, William: Cockney Past and Present. A Short History of the Dialect of London. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1938, Reprinted Edition, 1972. P.: 76.

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Cockney and Estuary English. A comparison
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Fachbereich 3)
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Since linguists have traced features of the so calles Estuary English in the speech of the Queen, it has gained growing interest. Is it really the "new RP" or just a mixture of London English with some Cockney features? This essay gives an overview on both Cockney as a main source and Estuary English itself. It refers to phonetic as well as sociolinguistic charactestics and tries to explain the growing popularity of this accent.
Cockney, Estuary, English
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Silja Recknagel (Author), 2006, Cockney and Estuary English. A comparison, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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