Estuary English


Estuary English is a dialect of English widely spoken in South East England, especially along the River Thames and its estuary. Phonetician John C. Wells defines Estuary English as ‘Standard English spoken with the accent of the southeast of England.’

Some people adopt the accent as a means of ‘blending in,’ appearing to be more working class, or in an attempt to appear to be ‘a common man’ – sometimes this affectation of the accent is derisively referred to as ‘Mockney.’ A move away from traditional Received Pronunciation accents is almost universal among middle class young people.

Conversely, Estuary English and the stronger London Accent are also seen in negative terms as unfriendly and portraying an unsympathetic urban manner. Many people in rural areas associate those accents with London and consider Londoners as the ultimate ‘townies’ and as people sometimes with arrogant and inconsiderate attitudes and urban values, such as driving too fast in the country, being impatient of slow moving traffic such as tractors, elderly drivers, cyclists and horse-riders in country lanes.

The name comes from the area around the Thames, particularly London, Kent, north Surrey and south Essex. The variety first came to public prominence in an article by David Rosewarne in the ‘Times Educational Supplement’ in 1984. Rosewarne argued that it may eventually replace Received Pronunciation in the south-east.

Studies have indicated that Estuary English is not a single coherent form of English; rather, the reality behind the construct consists of some (but not all) phonetic features of working-class London speech spreading at various rates socially into middle-class speech and geographically into other accents of south-eastern England.

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