One of English’s most rapidly evolving dialects is what is known as Multicultural London English (MLE). In a nutshell, MLE is a ‘young’ dialect (one might mark the birthday cutoff at 1970) that incorporates elements of Caribbean English and other ‘non-native’ influences. Although it is associated with Britons of African descent, it is spoken by inner-city Londoners of many ethnicities.
In some ways, MLE reverses the direction London English has been traveling for the past century. For an idea of what I’m talking about, watch this interview with hip hop artist Dizzee Rascal, a well-known speaker of MLE:
There is something clearly ‘London’ about this young man’s speech, yet he hardly speaks ‘classic Cockney.’ What is striking here are the diphthongs:
*In Cockney, the vowel in ‘face’ shifts toward the /ai/ in ‘price.’ In MLE, this vowel is the opposite: it’s more of a monophthong or close diphthong (IPA [e] or [ei]).
*In Cockney, the vowel in ‘price’ shifts toward the /oy/ in ‘choice.’ In MLE, the vowel becomes more of a monophthong, as in American Southern or some Northern English accents: (IPA [a:]).
*In Cockney, the vowel in ‘goat’ moves towared the /au/ in ‘mouth.’ In MLE, this vowel is more of a monophthong or close diphthong (IPA [o] or [ou]).
Yet in one respect, Multicultural London English does not reverse Cockney trends. That would be in regards to words like ‘goose,’ ‘food’ and ‘you,’ which in most London accents is pronounced with a central or nearly front vowel. Not only does MLE participate in this forward shift, it actually seems to push this vowel further front than other types of London English (as per the study cited below).
Why is this vowel so typically ‘London’ when most other vowels of MLE are different from Cockney? Linguist Jenny Cheshire (et al.) explored this question in her Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English*. She found that MLE speakers seem to acquire many features of this dialect very early on in their childhood, the one exception being the fronting of ‘goose,’ which appears to slowly emerge during adolescence.
Remarkably, something similar is happening 5400 miles away. Linguist Carmen Fought found that speakers of Chicano English in California** (that is, English spoken by Mexican-Americans) also participates in the fronting of ‘goose’ typical of other Californians. As is the case with MLE, this is notable for how it goes against the dialect’s ‘non-native’ influence: the Spanish language typically has only a fully back /u/ sound.
So why is this one sound pronounced so ‘locally’ in these ethnolects?
*Cheshire, J., Kerswill, P., Fox, S., & Torgersen, E. (2011). Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 15, 151-196.
**Fought, C. (1999). A majority sound change in a minority community: /u/-fronting in Chicano English. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 3, 5-23.