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Multicultural London English (abbreviated MLE), colloquially called Jafaican, is a dialect (and/or sociolect) of English that emerged in the late 20th century. It is spoken mainly in inner London. According to research by Queen Mary, University of London, Multicultural London English is gaining territory from Cockney.
It is said to contain many elements from the languages of Jamaica, West Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Although the street name, "Jafaican", implies that it is "fake" Jamaican, researchers indicate that it is not the language of white kids trying to "play cool" but rather that "[it is] more likely that young people have been growing up in London exposed to a mixture of second-language English and local London English and that this new variety has emerged from that mix".
MLE is used mainly by young, inner-city, working-class people.
Notable speakers of the dialect include Lady Sovereign, Dizzee Rascal, and M.I.A..
While elderly speakers in London display a vowel and consonant system that matches earlier descriptions, young speakers largely have different traits. These traits are on the whole not the levelled ones noted in recent studies of teenage speakers in south-east England outside London, e.g. Milton Keynes, Reading and Ashford. We would expect the youth to show precisely these levelled traits, with further developments reflecting the innovatory status of London as well as the passage of time. However, evidence contradicts this expectation:
- consonant swapping-e.g. saying "aks" instead of "ask". This is an example of cultural appropriation, as this was often done in West Country English, e.g. with the words "gert" ("great", although used to mean "very"), "wopse" (wasp), chillurn ("children") etc.
- fronting of /ʊ/ less advanced in London than in periphery: lack of fronting of /ʊ/ in inner city is conservative, matching Caribbean Englishes.
- lack of /oʊ/-fronting: fronting of the offset of /oʊ/ absent in most inner-London speakers of both sexes and all ethnicities, present in outer-city girls.
- Instead, /oʊ/-monophthongisation: highly correlated with ethnicity (Afro-Caribbean, Black African) and multi-ethnic network (for whites).
- /аɪ/-lowering across region: This is seen as a reversal of the Diphthong Shift. However, the added fronting is greater in London than in the south-east periphery, resulting in variants like [аɪ]. Fronting and monophthongisation of /аɪ/ is correlated with ethnicity; it is strongest among non-whites. It seems to be a geographically directional and diachronically gradual process. The change (from approximately [ɔɪ]) involves lowering of the onset, and as such is a reversal of the Diphthong Shift. It is interpretable as a London innovation with diffusion to the periphery.
- raised onset of FACE: This results in variants like [eɪ]. Like /аɪ/, monophthongisation of /eɪ/ is strongest among non-whites. This is also seen as a reversal of the Diphthong Shift.
- /aʊ/ realized as [aː] and not "levelled" [aʊ]: In inner-city London, [aː] is the norm for /aʊ/. Additionally, [ɑʊ] is used by some non-whites, especially girls, in the inner city.
- backing of /k/ to [q] before non-high back vowels
Some features continue changes already noted in the south-east:
- loss of H-dropping
- advanced fronting of /uː/: This results in realizations like [ʏː]. Unexpectedly, it is most advanced among non-white Londoners and whites with non-white networks.
- backing of /æ/: This can result in variants like [a̠].
- backing of /ʌ/: This results in variants like [ɑ] or [ʌ].
The past tense of the verb "to be" is regularised, with "was" becoming universal for all conjugations, and "weren't" likewise for negative conjugations. This leaves "I was, you was, he was" etc, and "I weren't, you weren't, he weren't" etc.
Tag-questions are limited to "isn't it", realised as "innit", and the corresponding "is it?".