Tracing the Origins of Multicultural London English


In the UK, accents are known to change every few miles. There are around forty different dialects in the country, ranging from Cockney and Scouse to Brummie and Yorkshire. Despite our verbal quirks though, Brits generally have an easy time understanding each other. It’s only the most divergent dialects, like Geordie, the oldest extant patois in the UK, that tend to cause confusion for visitors from the south.

When it comes to London, businesses are striving to translate their texts for a variety of cultures. But the impact of the city’s multiculturalism can also be seen in the variants of English being spoken there.

Windrush Generation

But what about Multicultural London English (MLE)? This dialect contains its own words and unique phrases and is reportedly overtaking Cockney as the most recognisable style of speaking in London. While it might be unknown and undecipherable to anybody outside the capital, much like everything north of the M25 is to locals, MLE has penetrated north and even overseas courtesy of its inclusion in music – grime and drill, in particular.

Sometimes referred to as Jafaican, a portmanteau of the words ‘Jamaican’ and ‘fake’, MLE was associated for many years with the black immigrant community, chiefly, those people now known as the Windrush Generation. Today, MLE is the product of nearly half a century of Londoners, both natives and otherwise, speaking Jamaican Creole and the East End dialect in close proximity to one another.

Monolingual Brits

Britain’s raft of dialects and cosmopolitan nature seems to stand at odds with our language learning skills – or lack thereof. Bengali, Polish, and Turkish are London’s second, third, and fourth languages yet only 8% of British-born people can speak a language other than English. A set of London twins set out to prove how easy language-learning can be and, considering almost everybody gets a chance to learn French, German, or Spanish at school, this statistic seems more than a little bit strange.

Courtesy of the internet, even the smallest company can attract customers from around the world. Brits’ monolingual nature can therefore put us at a disadvantage in business. Language platform Preply notes that a quarter of US-based businesses had been forced to surrender new opportunities due to a lack of language skills in the workforce. A good 90% of bosses indicated that their company relied on a multilingual staff.

Inner-City Areas

MLE is perhaps best known outside London as the dialect spoken by the rapper Stormzy and Raheem Sterling of Liverpool F.C. However, BBC Radio 4 indicates that the roots of some of its words are anything but modern. ‘Ends’, which is an MLE word for where somebody lives (e.g. ‘my ends’, ‘your ends’) comes from Middle-English. Its usage has remained the same since the Norman invasion in the 11th century.

A thousand years later, due to the capabilities of linguists, some phrases in MLE can be traced back to the individual town where they originated. ‘Nang’, a superlative used in a similar way to the word cool, is associated with Hackney. A distinctly London accent, the growth in MLE usage can also be attributed to its growing popularity in other inner-city areas, such as Manchester and Birmingham.

MLE is one of the most creative dialects in the UK and one that will become increasingly common outside London over the next few decades.