Let’s ‘rabbit and pork’ or a few words about Cockney

By Polina Vezhan

It is difficult to believe that instead of the word stairs you can say apples and pears and people in London would understand you. It is called Cockneyisms. Many people mistakenly tend to believe that Cockney is an accent. Some people say it is rather a vulgar format of the British English language which is also not entirely true. In fact it is a dialect with its very characteristic features. Where is my London team is happy to share everything we manage to find out about that with the readers.

St Mary-le-Bow Church (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The slang is generally associated with the working class from East End. It is also said the true Cockney individual must be born within hearing distance of the bells of Saint Mary le Bow Church of London.

The slang has a distinctive pronunciation and many grammatical features. The letter t often disappears from words. For example, water becomes wa’er and city becomes ci’y. The letter h is often dropped at the beginning of words. For example, house becomes ‘ouse.

Among grammatical features  more interesting are double negatives (I didn’t say nothing) and use of ain’t instead of isn’t, am not, are not, has not, etc. Also they tend to use me instead of my.

As an English teacher with great experience Peter Dawson, of St Nicholas College of London, often comes across the event when students who come to London to learn English pick up the slang to simplify pronunciation or it  just simply sounds cool to them. Then what becomes wha’ and but turns to be bu’. “It is infectious, – confesses Peter – I find myself copying them. But as a teacher when I hear wha’ it offends me. We teach standard English and trust me, if you learn standard English Cockneys will understand you”.

According to our expert as well as having a certain pronunciation, the language of East end is most notable for its Rhyming Slang.  This consists of using a phrase that rhymes, sounds the same, as the word you want to say, so telephone becomes dog and bone, time appears as nickel and dime and stairs comes to apples and pears.

Answering the question of what caused the need in creating this way of talking Peter says it was invented by the criminals so that they could plan their crimes in the pub without anyone understanding it. “But it is not to say that every eastender is a criminal”,- cautiously adds our expert.

However there are also some stories explaining that this slang originated in the market place so that the vendors could communicate without the customers knowing what was being said – you wouldn’t want your customers knowing that you were going to lower your prices in ten minutes so you could go home early.

The slang has changed a lot through the centuries. Many Cockneyisms haven’t survived the middle decades of the twentieth century. Also a lot of the phrases have lost the second word, making it very hard for the outsider to guess the original meaning; rabbit for talk comes from the phrase rabbit and pork.

Source: powayusd.com

Our language expert says he was surprised to find out that new phrases are also coming to the list: “when something new appears in the culture Cockney will take those things, thus, the word ears has become britney spears. It is new generation of Cockneyisms”

In terms of moving there were also some changes. Migration of Cockneys has also led to migration of the dialect. In Essex,  a town that mostly grew from post-war migration out of London there is strong Cockney influence on local speech. Today areas such as Dagenham, Barking, Romford, Tottenham, Enfield, Basildon and Brimsdown also considered to be Cockney areas.

Listen to the extract of the interview with Peter Dawson:

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Published in: on January 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Great corn on the cob, Polina! ))


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