I’ve often discussed Estuary English, the London-influenced accent spreading throughout England. One piece of evidence? Young people in Glasgow seem to be adopting ‘Cockney’ pronunciations. If the Glasgow accent is indeed becoming more ‘Southeastern,’ this would be a powerful indicator of London’s linguistic dominance. After all, if kids as far-flung as Scotland talk like Londoners, Estuary must be colonizing Britain!
The “Cockney in Glasgow” theory is summarized by this dubious Wikipedia entry:
Studies have indicated that working-class adolescents in areas such as Glasgow have begun to use certain aspects of Cockney and other Anglicisms in their speech … Researches [sic] suggest the use of English speech characteristics is likely the influence of London and South East England accents featuring heavily on television.
I have some qualms about the above paragraph (of the 9 links cited, only 1 is a “study”). But taking these claims at face value: Is the Glasgow accent really becoming more like Cockney? Or are these changes mere coincidence?
Let’s look at the three “Estuary” features found in Glasgow:
—Non-rhoticity: That is, some younger Glaswegians drop the ‘r’ at the end of words like car, butter, and core.
—L-vocalization: Like Cockneys, some younger Glaswegians turn the ‘l’ at the end of syllables into different types of ‘w’- or ‘oo’-like sounds. So battle might sound like “battow” or “battoo.”
—TH-fronting: Like Cockney, the English /th/ may become ‘f’ or ‘v’–both becomes “bof,” bother becomes “bovver,” etc.
To give you an idea of what a contemporary, adolescent Glasgow accent sounds like, I refer you to this video, which I posted a few months back:*
I have several reservations about the “Glasgow Cockney” theory. First off, as per the video, Glasgow ‘r-dropping’ is different from London ‘r-dropping.’ The young man interviewed exhibits a kind of ‘swallowed r’ (for you phoneticians, that would be ‘a pharyngealized r’).* That’s unlike London, where the ‘r’ entirely disappears after vowels.
I find the other features of Glasgow “Cockneyfication” even less convincing. In the US, /th/-fronting (i.e. ‘both’ = ‘bof’) and l-vocalization (‘trouble’ = ‘trubbow’) go hand in hand in several accents or dialects: African American Vernacular English, Mid-Atlantic (Philadelphia/Baltimore) English, and some varieties of Southern English. I don’t believe Cockney has influenced any of those accents. Why Glasgow?
And what about geography? Why do these features skip past Northern England to land feet first in Scotland? Our overexcited Wikipedian’s answer is ‘the media,’ that vague linguistic bogeyman (bogeymen?) blamed for the English talking like Americans; everybody in the British Isles talking like Londoners; public school students talking like Cockneys; and x ethnicity talking like y ethnicity. More evidence is needed.
Joking aside, I won’t completely reject the notion that hours of EastEnders has led Scottish teenagers to drop their r’s. I just need more convincing. After hearing countless permutations of the complaint, “the young people talk funny because of the TV,” I’m become wary of such assumptions.
Any plausible theories?
*Don’t mean to imply anything about Glasgow or the Glasgow accent by posting this. Alas, it’s a really good accent sample!
**Okay, not exactly. Here’s the Inner Pedant version: Much as l-vocalization begins with post-vocalic /l/ being velarized, I would assume the process with /r/ begins with post-vocalic r being pharyngealized, then the apical gesture being reduced until only a pharyngeal consonant remains.