Multicultural London English (MLE)

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.

The way I try to speak. I was born in nineteen eighty seven.
She’s cutting her eye at me, giving me, like, dirty looks.

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.

The way I try to speak. I was born in nineteen eighty seven. Based in North London. From a Jamaican slash English background. So, for me, today
Slapped her in her face, yeah.

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.

And it stained the whole of my coat and everything.

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.

Two thousand fourteen maybe… other than your work, obviously getting out there. Like for you personally in terms of … you know pushing you forward in like a career kind of sense. Yeah, just like, what have you learned in general in terms of…you know either from having to look at yourself in a way where you’ve had to develop yourself, and reeducate yourself as you said, or just by having to work alongside big brands, or big name artists, and just being in a position where…
The artwork starting to happen from so early on … the end twenty fourteen start of twenty fifteen …before that … I was still working part time at a sneaker store … because obviously I’m aware that I’m a white person documenting Black culture.

NURSE  →   nɜːs

The target vowel for NURSE is mostly more open than schwa and could be backed as well:  [ɜ] or [ʌ̈]

Other than your work personally, what have you learned in general in terms of having to work alongside big brands or… in terms of…

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:

I was shooting   the Maccabee   show. Aperture,   ISO – I didn’t know what any of it meant. I didn’t even change   the settings.   I just hoped for the best.

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.

My musical taste has always been very broad, but obviously always mainly music. So my mum went and bought me the album for me to listen to on my Walkman, and again just literally just wore all of them out, I mean they’re all like crackly.

     *”wore” is a NORTH/FORCE word, but being non-rhotic, it merges with THOUGHT

I never really thought, “look at all these people!” when I just started raving all the time, going out all the time. Then I think he saw it. And that is still something I’m very cautious of now

    * “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”

I feel like  anyone that maybe knew my photography back then I do get  someone like “Whoa! Looks   so cool!”  which was cute. But it   looked  really cool.

MOUTH  →   mæɤf   maːf

The   first element of the diphthong is raised and could be nasalized. The second   element is unstressed or dropped.

There was underground music out there that we would listen to. Without those individuals from challenging backgrounds…
…and they shout me out in their songs

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.

…my coat and everything
idiot or something like that

This sample contains a variety of realizations of these voiced and unvoiced TH sounds:

A lot of the rappers in the game respect me, and they shout me out in their songs. I’ve never heard no one really say anything bad, like an artist say anything bad about me. The whole singing thing is just something… I don’t know. The rapping thing obviously you have to sit down and concentrate — write your bars. I’m not really a freestyler like that.

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

…idiot or something like that

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”


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”.

Bruv, be careful, mate because…Fucking Hell. Imagine if I was in John Wolf‘s carpark.

Discourse Markers

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!