While doing some channel surfing the other day, I stumbled upon the reality show Made in Chelsea. I’d describe the program to Americans as akin to The Hills or Laguna Beach (although I don’t recall Lauren Conrad cracking jokes about “phonological ambiguity” over billiards). You know the type: rich kids, fancy zip/postal code, romantic intrigue, etc. etc.
I have no idea if these young people actually represent today’s affluent and monied Londoners (probably not), but they offer an interesting glimpse at how such a subculture might talk. Here is an interview with a cast member nicknamed “Binky” (why do both American and British blue blood types have such strange nicknames?):
It’s striking which local Londonisms the MiC cast adopt and which they don’t. For instance, you’ll note that while the young woman above glottally stops her t‘s, she avoids this in the middle of words (note “hotter” at :13 and “dirty” at 4:57). Also worth noting (and this seems true of several other cast members) is that the vowel in FACE remains rather conservative; it seems that this diphthong’s shift toward the vowel in KITE, typical of London, has little impacted this group.
But where some marked Londonisms are avoided, others are extremely advanced. /l/ is frequently vocalized. Most striking are the vowels in GOOSE and GOAT, at times almost entirely front: y and øʏ. As with California English, fronter variants of these phonemes seems more salient in young woman than young men.
I would still categorize this English as “Received Pronunciation,” albeit a particularly youthful type. I’d imagine that a time-travelling RP speaker from the 1950′s might be aghast at such a categorization. But there is enough cautious avoidance of marked Cockneyisms that I’m hesitant to shove such accents into the “Estuary” box.
Yet unlike mid-Century RP speakers, I occasionally have a hard time understanding what MiC‘s youths are saying. Is it their accent, or is it their age? As I’m in my thirties, I find myself occasionally feeling early symptoms of “the kids don’t talk like they used to” disease. When the Chelsea crew strains my comprehension, it’s usually due to what sounds to me like mumbling (for instance “whannoysmeamosboutJamie” at 4:12 in the video above). Yet I feel the same way, at times, listening to 20-year-olds from New Jersey or California. Is it mumbling I hear, or merely English’s ever-evolving efficiency?