Multicultural London English (MLE)
All accents change over time, and Multicultural English is a new accent that emerged in the early 1980s out of that process of gradual change. It is an accent of London, and shares features with Cockney, RP and the English of Jamaican immigrants to London. Before it was described (in 2004) by the linguists Paul Kerswill and Jenny Cheshire, it was sometimes described with the pejorative term “Jafaican”. The implication being that its prevalence amongst young people without West Indian or African ancestry was the result of a faddish imitation of a Jamaican accent. That is not how accent change works, and the term was really meant to reflect negatively on young people from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
Although the name “multicultural” accurately represents that this is an accent that is not culturally or racially bounded, there is a range of possible realizations of this accent that could be seen to map loosely onto a range of identities. To take the example of to popular British rappers, Plan B and Stormzy, both Londoners and both fairly young, exhibit all of the main features of this accent. Nevertheless, Plan B seems to lean just a bit more towards Cockney. Is this because he’s White and Stormzy is Black? Or because Stormzy’s mother is Ghanaian? Or because Plan B is older, or from a more Northern part of London? It’s a relatively new accent and there may be emerging features that align along a racial or cultural spectrum, or we may be witnessing the leveling of differences as young Londoners become more and more alike.
For an RP speaker, the MLE jaw position would likely seem quite open. For North American speakers, this might not be a noticeable difference. What will feel different though, is the tendency to cup the front of the tongue and to keep front vowels more front that the SCGA position.
There will also be more lip corner protrusion compared to SCGA, but not as much as in Cockney.
There is definitely a very active arching both towards the front and back of the vowel space, but this is usually not matched with tongue root retraction.
There is some spreading of the tongue to make contact with the sides of the dorsum against the back molars, but without the midline raising or bracing that characterizes SCGA rhoticity.
This is an interview with Vicky Grout . Spend some time listening while modeling the postural features described above:
Prosody refers to the musical component of an accent — Its melody and rhythm. This can be difficult to put into a description that an actor can find actionable, because melody and rhythm also have a day job: They’re what we use to clarify the relationships between ideas, the grouping of ideas, and the starting and stopping point of a clause or sentence. With all of that “meaningful” prosodic production and perception going on, it can be hard pressed to describe what parts of that pattern are encoding a speaker’s cultural origins (AKA accent). The best course is often to listen to samples with a few guiding ideas to help us think abou what we’re already perceiving.
Here are a few examples:
As with RP and Cockney, MLE speakers use pitch more than volume to emphasize key information.
There is also quite a bit of variation between long and short sounds.
Phrases tend to be marked by quick steps up and down in pitch rather than the slower glides of pith found in SCGA.
The prevalence of glottal stops and a tendency towards rapid speech can create a staccato rhythm.
In this section, we’ll look at the characteristic features of MLE pronunciation. This involves consideration of the important differences in the organization of phonemes, and the specific phonetic pronunciation of those phonemes.The phoneme will most often be described using the Lexical Set category name, and the target pronunciation will be described using phonetics, and with accompanying audio samples.
PRICE → pɹaĕ̯s
MLE speakers’ realization of this diphthong can range from something quite close to RP [pɹaɪ̯s] to a smoothed form as transcribed above. What that means is that the second element is incredibly short. The difficulty for actors from the US is that this can sound like a Southern realization. If you listen to the sample below, you should be able to hear a bit more muscular tension in the sound and a clear final movement towards /e/ however brief.
FACE → feɪ̯s
The pronunciation of this diphthong is usually in the territory of the RP realization, and this is only salient because while MLE shares many features with Cockney, this is where the two accents diverge.
GOAT → o
The realization of this phoneme is unlike either RP or Cockney, and probably owes more to the Caribbean influences on the accent. The sound is a monophthong similar to the /o/ many Irish accents, bot made in a somewhat more open position.
It’s interesting to note, however, that because this accent has a realization of /l/ similar to Cockney, this speaker demonstrates GOAT Allophony, which simply means that the vowel of GOAL is slightly different from that of GOAT.
Rhoticity /r/ = Ø
All Londoners omit /r/ after vowels. It’s these postvocalic /r/ phonemes that J.C. Wells dubbed “rhoticity”, and just like the variable pronunciation of /l/ in most accents of English, this is a difference based on the phoneme’s position in the word: after a vowel in the same syllable.
NURSE → nɜːs
The target vowel for NURSE is mostly more open than schwa and could be backed as well: [ɜ] or [ʌ̈]
SQUARE → skwɛə̯ skwɛː
NEAR → nɪə̯ nɪː
These diphthongs, in addition to being non-rhotic are often smoothed. That is, the second element is dropped.
START → stɑːt
NORTH → nɔːθ
CURE → kçɔː
These diphthongs, are always smoothed.
NORTH FORCE CURE and THOUGHT all merge to [ɔː]
lettER → ˈlɛʔɐ
commA → ˈkɒmә
lettER and commA are merged. In other words, the words “Peter” and “pita” are pronounced identically. Sometimes the unstressed. Non-rhotic ending will be realized with a bit more emphasis and therefore a more open tongue position. That can have an impact on the linking /r/ described below.
THERE IS → ðɛə̆͡ ɹɪs
Although the postvocalic /r/ is dropped, when that syllable is followed immediately by a vowel, the /r/ is “elided” or “linked” to the beginning of that next syllable. This feature is sometimes extended to instances where there is no “r” in the spelling. This is called the “intrusive R”
The panda is not a bear anyway
Peter Parker ate a pita on the sofa every day.
Emma hates the Emirates
BATH → bɑːθ
Americans generally pronounce TRAP and BATH words with the same vowel. In London accents, these two categories are distinguished. For words in the BATH set, where an American would use [æ], an RP speaker will use [ɑː].
This resulted from a historical phonological process called “pre-fricative lengthening”. This means that many of the words in this category are spelled with “a” followed by a cluster of fricatives such as “ff, ft, sk, or ss” Unfortunately, this is not a perfect predictor of pronunciation. A pronouncing dictionary should always be consulted. There is also a subcategory of BATH words that are moving back to the TRAP set amongst younger speakers, including MLE speakers.
He laughed and passed them an example.
Akala can’t answer fast enough.
That last man slandered Kanye’s backup dancers.
TRAP → tɹæp
In MLE, TRAP is perhaps slightly more open than RP, and slightly more fronted than in SCGA. The oral posture will probably account for any subtle changes from your own baseline that might be needed.
DRESS → dɹɛs
This sound is similarly shifted by the posture. Listen to the TRAP and DRESS vowels in this sentence:
LOT/CLOTH → lɒt/klɒθ
The LOT and CLOTH sets are merged, and use a slightly rounded, open, back vowel [ɒ]. For American speakers who use an unrounded [ɑ] this can be challenging, particularly since these vowels, being short in duration, need a very quick gesture of lip corner protrusion
Obviously not lost on the boss.
It wasn’t costly, Sean but it was odd
*Sean is a THOUGHT word
THOUGHT → θɔ̝ːt
In American English this sound is often pronounced [ɑ] or [ɒ]. The MLE version is lengthened, rounded, and with a higher tongue position. Since some American speakers merge LOT, CLOTH and THOUGHT into a single, unrounded phoneme, and others use and unrounded vowel [ɑ] for LOT, and the same, rounded vowel [ɒ] for both CLOTH and THOUGHT, it can be tricky to sort out this pattern, applying the right sound in the right case.
*”wore” is a NORTH/FORCE word, but being non-rhotic, it merges with THOUGHT
* “saw it” is a good example of an intrusive /r/
GOOSE → ɡʉːs
This vowel is pronounced with a more advanced tongue position. Care should be taken, though to maintain a consistent mouth shape throughout the sound. Otherwise a more Californian, diphthongized /u/ will result. The fronting of GOOSE doesn’t occur when the vowel is followed by /l/ as in “cool”
MOUTH → mæɤf maːf
The first element of the diphthong is raised and could be nasalized. The second element is unstressed or dropped.
HELLO → ˈɛlo
/h/ is dropped, particularly in unstressed positions. This also has the effect of making the syllable begin with a vowel, making it fair game for linking and intrusive /r/.
THINK → fɪŋk tɪŋk
THEM → dɛm d̪ɛm
/θ/ can be realized as /f/, particularly at the end or middle of a word. There are also instances where a speaker might realize /θ/ as /t/. This is due to the presence of cockney and Caribbean influences.
This sample contains a variety of realizations of these voiced and unvoiced TH sounds:
MOTHER → mävɜ
The voiced cognate /ð/ can similarly be realized as /v/. For both of these phonemes there is also a possibility that they will realized as plosives
DUKE → ʤʉk
TUNE → ʧʉn
In many words, the /u/ sound is preceded by /j/. This feature is known as the “liquid u” and is found in words like “beauty” and “music”. In URP this feature occurs in more contexts, In MLE and Cockney, this /j/ combines with /d/ or /t/ to create the affricates /ʤ/ and /ʧ/. This is known as “Yod Coalescence”
BETTER BRITISH WRITER
ˈbɛʔɐ ˈbɹɪʔɪʃ ˈɹaɪ̯ʔə
Glottal stops can replace /p/, /t/, and /k/ in intervocalic or postvocalic positions.
Of course, many words have medial /d/ in both RP and American accents, so one should be careful not to generalize the rule to the devoicing and aspirating of all such sounds. RP speakers pronounce “Betty” as [ˈbe̞tɪ] but they don’t pronounce “ready” as [ˈɹe̞tɪ]. Modern RP differs from older RP in that /t/ is often given a bit of reinforcement by a glottal stop : /t͡ʔ/
The writer of the letter is getting better, but the reader isn’t ready.
MILK → mɪʊ̯̆k
In postvocalic positions (after a vowel), /l/ is articulated essentially as a vowel. This results from relaxation of the tongue tip away from the alveolar ridge, and an added articulation at the lip corners. J.C. Wells calls this “L Vocalisation”.
While grammatical features are usually dealt with by a playwright before an actor becomes involved, we should be alert for a few distinctive features of MLE grammar.
Confirming comprehension with “yeah” and “innit.” These are often placed at the ends of clauses and sentences, as in:
There was this girl on the bus, yeah.
You can’t just pull up at people’s houses, bruv! Phone me, innit!