The rise of Multicultural London English, innit?

Multicultural graffiti © Jason Taellious
Graffiti © Jason Taellious

Received Pronunciation is under attack.  An early threat to the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England dates back to the 1980s in the form of Estuary English.  A more recent––and perhaps more potent––assault comes in the form of Multicultural London English (MLE).

Multicultural London English

MLE is a sociolect of English, in as much as it is a dialect specific to a particular social class.  It is predominantly spoken by young, working class people in the multicultural neighbourhoods of inner-city London and its suburbs.

In an article in the Metro, Dr Chris Lucas, Senior Lecturer in Arabic Linguistics at SOAS University of London describes the spread of MLE beyond the capital:

“London accents have spread beyond London and are spreading still.  You’re seeing more and more features of this Multicultural London English being adopted and blended with the local, traditional, working-class accents of whichever city it might be––Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham.”

The power of cool

The term ‘cool’ to signify something that is fashionable and stylish may be thought to have its origins in the Jazz Age of the 1930s, however the term was being used at least a century beforehand to similarly signify something that was desirable.

The spread of MLE beyond London can be seen as a triumph of the ‘cool’, with language taken from Grime, Street and Hip-Hop music, and from a gang culture characterised in films such as AdULTHOOD and KiDULTHOOD, becoming fashionable in youth culture.

However, the rise of MLE in London has not been so much as a result of the influence of popular culture, but has occurred naturally due to an inner-city generation’s exposure to a variety of accents, foreign languages, and pronunciations, which have shaped its everyday spoken language.


The use of MLE words, which derive from other languages is significant.  For example, the suffix -dem as a plural marker in words such as mandem or gyaldem, or the term dutty to mean something that is either dirty, bad, or ugly, both come from Jamaican Creole.

The concept of loanwords is nothing new in language: the English language would be nothing like as rich without the loanwords it has acquired from its neighbours, far and wide.

Urban British English

Language is ever evolving.  Even during the relatively short time it has taken for MLE to become established, spread and now studied, it is also becoming redundant.  As MLE gains popularity beyond its original catchment area of London and the Home Counties, so its relevance is diminished.

So RIP MLE; and hello UBE (Urban British English).

You say “Tomayto”; I say “Tomahto”

They may appear perfectly innocent, but listed below are some of the most contentious and divisive words in the English language.  How do you pronounce them?  How do your friends?  You may be surprised by what a difference a short vowel or a fricative consonant makes and, more importantly, what it reveals about you!

  • Scone
  • Bath
  • Grass
  • Neither
  • Schedule
  • Bus
  • Ask
  • Kenya
  • Data
  • Shrewsbury
  • Iraq
  • Cholmondeley-Featherstonhaugh

Want to learn more?

The Department of Linguistics at SOAS University of London was founded in 1932 as the first department of general linguistics in the United Kingdom.  Today, SOAS remains a centre for linguistic study in an unparalleled range of world languages.

At undergraduate level, it is possible to study BA Linguistics and BA Linguistics and…; while at postgraduate level, SOAS offers degrees in MA Applied Linguistics and Language Pedagogy, MA Language Documentation and Description, MA Linguistics, and MA Linguistics and Intensive Language.

Find out more



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