The spread of Cockney throughout the English speaking world

Seminar Paper, 2006

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1) Introduction: the terms “dialect” and “Cockney”

2) The features of Cockney
2.1) Grammar: a non-standard with unexceptional vocabulary
2.2) Lexis: Rhyming Slang and language games
2.3) Pronounciation: phonemes, glottal stop and h-dropping
2.4) Summary

3) The history of the spread of the English language
3.1) English in England
3.2) English in the world
3.3) Summary

4) Cockney as a part of Australian English

5) Conclusion: Is Cockney still a living variety of English?

6) Bibliography

1) Introduction: the terms’ dialect’ and ‘Cockney’

The paper shall explore the question of the english urban dialect Cockney as an influence of the English language, its spread all over the world and its validity nowadays.

The term ‘dialect’ indicates a regionally specific variety of language, that differs from the Standard in phonological, grammatical and lexical regards. A standard form is in every language a defined variety of the language in phonological, grammatical and lexical regards.

Beside the English Standard variety there exist a lot of rural and urban dialects. The rural dialects lost their importance in relation to the spread of the Standard, but the urban dialects still play an important role – nowadays the same as in the history of the English language, when they emerged during the urbananisation of England.They are language varieties that were built in the big urban regions and among them the best known nowadays is Cockney, which exists beside a large group of other dialects (for example the Scouse in Liverpool or the Geordie in Newcastle-upon-Tyne). By speakers of a more “educated” accent these dialects were often seen as “harsh” and “ugly”, but for the speaker of the dialect they are a possibility to express an identification with a certain group of people.

Cockney is often seen as the language of London’s working class, but actually it is a variant that arised in the East End region and that has its basis there (in general every English urban dialect is a working-class accent of the area it belongs to). Allegedly it goes back to the Middle English word “coken-ey” (a cock’s egg) which was a scournful nickname for a certain group of people (town-dweller). Strictly speaking a Cockney is a person that was born near the bells of the church Saint-Mary-le-Bow in the City of London, traditionally a Cockney is an inhabitant of London’s East End, but it can also be heard throughout the city.

2) The features of Cockney

Cockney is the best known urban dialect as the result of its special features, which are excellently shown in the world famous musical “My Fair Lady”, which is based on the literary text “Pygmalion” written by George Bernard Shaw. The following example out of this musical (spoken by a Cockneygirl) represents a good portrayal of Cockney-speech:

Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? Wat, fewd dan y’ de-ooty bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl a pore gel’s flahrzn than ran awy a-thaht pyin. (In Standard English it would be the sentences: How, he’s your son, is he? Well, if you’d done your duty by him as a mother should, he’d now [ do ] better than to spoil a poor girl’s flowers and than run away without paying.) Wells once estimated Cockney as the most influential source of phonological innovation in England and perhaps in the whole English-speaking world (Wells in Gramley/ Pätzold 1192: 329).

But how does / did Cockney influence the English language? To find out about this influence and the quality of Cockney it is necessary to take a look on its characteristics.

2.1.) Grammar: a non-standard with unexceptional vocabulary

In its grammar Cockney has some concordances with other non-standard varieties, but in general it differs from all of them because of the following pecularities: Cockney speakers often use the formations of “be and verb+-ing” or “go and verb+-ing” (for example Don’t go movin’ my things!) or the form “get verb+-ing” (for example I get messin’ about in the garden.) to express a continuing practice. Another feature of Cockney grammar that is very striking in these examples is the Cockneys’ tendency to leave out the “g”-ending.

Moreover Cockney speakers leave out the word “to” when they are speaking about directions, instead they prefer to replace it with more graphic prepositions like “up”, “down”, “over” or “round”.

Further they use a question-tag (just a spoken, not a written one) to underline an expression and a beginning “a” with the participle I, for example in I heard him atalkin’.

All these individualities of Cockney grammar show its difference from the English Standard (Received Pronounciation, ‘RP’), but nevertheless Cockney inluences RP because of its spontaneous speech which is transferred (or tried to be transferred) into RP.

RP speakers see themselves as totally different from Cockney speakers (concerning their language), but directly compared to each other, their grammar shows some similarities: both have the same order in the sentences (Subject – Verb – Object) and besides their deviating vocabulary speakers of both varieties are able to understand what the other one is saying – sometimes it is for an RP speaker quite more difficult, but all in all it works.

2.2) Lexis: Rhyming Slang and language games

In general the lexis of Cockney can be called witty and graphic, as Cockneys like to play with their language. Because of that we can find many expressive wordformations, for example suckers for ‘sweets’ or horn sticks for ‘celery’ or funny phrases, like born tired for ‘reluctant to work’, that are often varied or replaced by other formations. Sometimes these forms are spread outward the boundaries of Cockney and then integrated in the General Slang.

Slang is a good word to lead up to a feature of the lexis Cockney is well known for, but which ‘is not an exclusively Cockney feature, nor is it typical of the everyday speech of most Cockneys’ (Gramley/Pätzold 1992: 329): the Rhyming Slang. It means, that certain words (mostly nouns) are replaced by wordformations that rhyme with them (especially the last word of the formation), for example north and south for ‘mouth’ or tea-leaf for ‘thief’. Yet Cockneys often do not use the full new pair, but they shorten it, i.e. they leave out the rhyming words, so then it is for example just Rosy (instead of Rosy Lea/Lee) for ‘tea’.

The rhyming replacements that are used can be twin forms (north and south), real or created names (Rosy Lea/Lee) or compositions with the noun + noun structure (tea-leaf). Sometimes there is a relation between the meaning of the rhyming word(s) and the replaced word.

The motives for using rhyming slang are different for each user, but generally there is on the one hand the need for coding of what is meant and of course shielding against outsiders. And on the other hand again the joy of playing with the language.

2.3) Pronounciation: h-dropping, glottal stop and phonemes

The pronounciation of Cockney is its most distinctive characteristic, because things that were pronounced in Cockney have often aroused certain pronounciations in RP. Of course not all of it could be taken over in RP, because they are so atypical for RP – while at the same time so typical for Cockney.

First of all the consonants of Cockney should be discussed: among them there is a very interesting phenomenon in Cockney namely the glottal stop. The voiceless stops /p, t, k/ are in Cockney more aspirated before vowels than in RP. In some cases these consonants are spoken like Affricates (it sounds as is two consonants come out of the mouth when it is just one in reality), for example [təI] – tea. When they are in final position these stops may have glottal coarticulation – in other words you can hear a glottal stop (which is normal) and before this one there has already been one (for example [εʔt] - hat).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


The spread of Cockney throughout the English speaking world
University of Rostock
Proseminar Englishes around the globe
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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445 KB
Cockney, English, Proseminar, Englishes
Quote paper
Kristina Müller (Author), 2006, The spread of Cockney throughout the English speaking world, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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