19 September 2013
Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:
This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Clapham, Marylebone, Hackney and Southall: the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC London. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a series of prompt words and, in the case of Hackney, Clapham and Marylebone, also include a summary of the grammar and phonology of the speakers.
It would be impossible in such a small set of recordings to present a comprehensive picture of the enormous diversity of English spoken in the UK's largest and most diverse city, but this sample at least hints at the extraordinary variety of voices. Discussions in Clapham reveal continued middle-class disdain for words like toilet, lounge and couch, suggesting that the notion of U and non-U speech popularised by Nancy Mitford in Noblesse Oblige and satirised by John Betjeman in How To Get On In Society remains relevant today. We hear contrasting views of 'traditional' London features like rhyming slang, which although considered embarrassing and old-fashioned by some, survives nonetheless in established, widely used terms like brassic ['brassic lint' = 'skint'] and taters ['taters (i.e. 'potatoes') in the mould' = 'cold']. Perhaps more significantly, there's evidence in more recent coinages like got the zig ['Sigmund Freud' = 'annoyed'] and Hank ['Hank Marvin' = 'starving'] of enduring enthusiasm for the sheer creative fun of rhyming slang.
Current influences are evident in the recording with British Asians in Southall, where young speakers provide glimpses of contemporary slang with butters [= 'ugly'], tick [= 'attractive' as in he's tick, man] and rinced [= 'tired'], while the affectionate forms of address mama-ji and mummy-ji capture blends formed by adding the Hindi-Urdu honorific suffix <-ji> to English variants for 'mother'. Equally intriguing are instances of English-Punjabi code-switching when choosing between food shopping or kappre [= 'clothes'] shopping or when pacifying someone whose gussa [= 'anger'] level's too high.
We only scratch the surface of London English here, but even a brief selection of terms of approval that occur spontaneously in these conversations reveals subtle sociolinguistic distinctions and confirms that London English is frightfully cool (Clapham), the business (Marylebone), sick (Southall), possibly even (with a little nod to Del Boy) lovely jubbly (Southall).