Who made Multicultural London English?
The study in a sentence
Multicultural London English (MLE) emerged in the context of the rich variety of languages spoken in London as a result of inward migration in the second half of the 20th century.
MLE is distinct from any of the accents or dialects that came before, and is now to a large extent shared across all ethnicities and language backgrounds, but retains a few features of Jamaican origin.
How does a language change when it is in contact with other languages to the extent that English in London has been?
Why is MLE often perceived as a kind of Jamaican, when in fact Jamaican-descended people form a relatively small proportion of the ethnic minority population today?
Is it perhaps because Jamaicans were the first to arrive?
The theory of new-dialect formation (Trudgill 2004) argues that:
the linguistic features of new dialects of English mostly reflect the patterns of features in the languages and dialects spoken by the people who moved to a new area;
the second and third generations of children of those first migrants are the ones who "do the 'work' of new dialect formation";
New Zealand English is often cited as an example of a new dialect of English formed in this way.
The work here shows that MLE partly matches this description of a 'new dialect', but that its origins are richer and more complex due to the urban setting in which it arose.
The study starts by identifying a set of linguistic features that are characteristic of MLE.
Then, the authors look at the properties of other languages and dialects to see which might be the source of the features that distinguish MLE from other varieties of English in the UK.
Next, they explore contemporary descriptions of young people's speech in London from the 1960s onwards.
Finally, they look at population data for London to understand which groups of people migrated to London, and when, to see if there is evidence of a particular influence of Jamaican language and culture on youth language in London.
"‘Multiethnolects’ such as MLE are the product of language contact, and in that respect their histories resemble those of creoles: people find themselves in the position of having to acquire new linguistic features in order to integrate linguistically with others."
"In a complex situation such as the emergence of multiethnolects, it is only by adding a component of cultural and social interpretation that we can approach an understanding of the outcomes."
Kerswill, P., & Torgersen, E. (2021: 9 & 23)
In more detail
A longer explanation of the research study
Pre-Workshop Talk [9 mins]
Live Webinar Talk [19 mins]
Slides from the Live Webinar talk