Estuary English: Wikis


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Enfield & Estuary English is a name given to the dialect(s) 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".[1] The name comes from the area around the Thames Estuary, particularly London, Kent and Essex.


The variety first came to public prominence in an article by David Rosewarne in the Times Educational Supplement in October 1984.[2] Rosewarne argued that it may eventually replace RP (Received Pronunciation). 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.[3][4]


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Estuary English is characterised by the following features:

  • Non-rhoticity.
  • Use of intrusive R.
  • A broad A (ɑː) in words such as bath, grass, laugh, etc.
  • T-glottalization: realizing non-initial, most commonly final, /t/ as a glottal stop instead of an alveolar stop, e.g. water (pronounced /wɔːʔə/).
  • Yod-coalescence, i.e., the use of the affricates [dʒ] and [tʃ] instead of the clusters [dj] and [tj] in words like dune and Tuesday. Thus, these words sound like June and choose day, respectively.
  • L-vocalisation, i.e., the use of [o], [ʊ], or [ɯ] where RP uses [ɫ] in the final positions or in a final consonant cluster.
  • The wholly-holy split.[5]
  • Use of confrontational question tags. For example, "We're going later, aren't we?", "I said that, didn't I?"

Despite the similarity between the two dialects, the following characteristics of Cockney pronunciation are generally not considered to be present in Estuary English:[2][6][7]

  • H-dropping, i.e., Dropping [h] in stressed words (e.g. [æʔ] for hat)
  • Double negation. However, Estuary English may use never in cases where not would be standard. For example, "he did not" [in reference to a single occasion] might become "he never did".
  • Replacement of [ɹ] with [ʋ] is not found in Estuary, and is also very much in decline amongst Cockney speakers.

However, it should be noted that the boundary between Estuary English and Cockney is far from clear-cut,[8][9] hence even these features of Cockney might occur occasionally in Estuary English.

In particular, it has been suggested that th-fronting is "currently making its way" into Estuary English, for example those from Isle of Thanet often refer to Thanet as "Plannit Fannit" (Planet Thanet).[7]

Use of Estuary English

Estuary English is widely encountered throughout the south and south-east of England, particularly among the young. Many consider it to be a working-class accent, though it is by no means limited to the working class. In the debate that surrounded a 1993 article about Estuary English, a London businessman claimed that Received Pronunciation was perceived as unfriendly, so Estuary English was now preferred for commercial purposes.[10]

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 RP is almost universal among upper and upper middle class young people.[citation needed]

The term "Estuary English" is sometimes used with pejorative connotations: Sally Gunnell, a former Olympic athlete who became a television presenter for Channel 4 and the BBC, quit the BBC, announcing she felt "very undermined" by the network's lack of support after she was widely criticised for her "uninspiring interview style" and "awful estuary English".[11]

London accent

The term "Estuary English" is a euphemism for a milder variety of the "London Accent". The spread of the London Accent extends many hundreds of miles outside London and all of the neighbouring home counties around London have residents who moved from London and brought their London Accent with them. The London Accent or its londonised variants called “Estuary English” can be heard in all of the New Towns, all of the coastal resorts and in the larger regional cities in the southern half of England.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Rosewarne, David (1984). Estuary English. Times Educational Supplement, 19 (October 1984)
  3. ^ A handout by John C. Wells, one of the first to write a serious description of the would-be variety. Also summarized by him here.
  4. ^ Altendorf, Ulrike (2003). Estuary English - Levelling at the Interface of RP and South-Eastern British English. Tübingen: Narr
  5. ^ Estuary English: A Controversial Issue? by Joanna Ryfa, from
  6. ^ Wells, John (1994). Transcribing Estuary English - a discussion document. Speech Hearing and Language: UCL Work in Progress, volume 8, 1994, pages 259-267
  7. ^ a b Altendorf, Ulrike (1999). Estuary English: is English going Cockney? In: Moderna Språk, XCIII, 1, 1-11
  8. ^ Maidment, J. A. (1994). "Estuary English: Hybrid or Hype?". Paper presented at the 4th New Zealand Conference on Language & Society, Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand, August 1994.. University College London. Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  9. ^ Haenni, Ruedi (1999). "The case of Estuary English: supposed evidence and a perceptual approach". University of Basel dissertation. University College London. Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  10. ^ David Crystal, "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language", p.327
  11. ^ Jo Knowsley (15 January 2006). "BBC undermined me so I quit, says Gunnell". The Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 2009-04-21. 

Further reading

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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Estuary English


Estuary English (uncountable)

  1. (British) A variety of English accent, spreading out from London into the area of the Thames estuary, containing features of both received pronunciation, Cockney and other regional accents.

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