Tue, Aug 23, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Cockneys are developing a Bangladeshi accent: BBC


"Stand on me, Gordon Bennett, the saucepan lids just ain't speaking true Cockney anymore." Or so says a study of speech in the heart of London's East End, which has found that the once traditional dialect of its streets is being usurped by a new voice used by the predominantly Bangladeshi youth.

The BBC's Voices project has discovered that a person may have to stray a little further than the sound of Bow Bells to hear one of the best-known accents in the world. A new mix of cockney and Bangladeshi has developed which is similar to Received Pronunciation, particularly in vowel sounds, according to Sue Fox, a researcher at the University of London.

After studying young people at a Tower Hamlets youth club, Fox told the BBC: "The majority of young people of school age are of Bangladeshi origin and this has had tremendous impact on the dialect ... It's a variety [of English] that we might say is Bangladeshi-accented. And in turn, what I've found is that some adolescents of white British origin are using these features in their speech as well."

During a nine-month study, Fox discovered that young, white men in particular have begun using Bangladeshi words from their friends -- "nang" meaning good, "creps" for trainers and "skets" for slippers.

Brick Lane, the heart of Tower Hamlets, is an example of the new melting pot of accent and dialect. Old-style East End pubs such as the Archers and the Pride of Spitalfields throw up locals who just wouldn't Adam and Eve it, while curry touts try and entice you with Bangladeshi English. Down in the trendy Truman Brewery pubs, meanwhile, the seriously hip swap tales in their own pretentious argot.

David Crystal, a BBC Voices consultant and one of the world's leading language specialists, said traditional cockney isn't so much dying out but two kinds of mixed accents are developing.

"Walk down Brick Lane and you will hear all sorts of interesting voices and dialects. Undoubtedly, some of the old-style cockney might be dying out as some rural dialects are dying out. But all accents change," he said.

The cockney accent isn't disappearing altogether, but shifting to outlying towns and boroughs, according to Laura Wright, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge.

"Long-standing East End communities were very much disrupted after the Second World War, partly due to bomb damage, partly to slum clearance, and many inhabitants were transferred out of London to the newly built new towns, such as Basildon and Harlow," Wright said.

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