Estuary English As A Growing Phenomenon English Language Essay

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Estuary English is a term invented by the British phonetician David Rosewarne in 1984 to describe a variety of English spoken "by the banks of the Thames and its estuary." Rosewarne describes Estuary English as a variety that includes the features of Standard English phonology, Received Pronunciation, as well as South-Eastern Britain's, mainly the Cockney accent's, speech patterns (Estuary English: Tomorrow's RP?).

Since 1984, the usage of Estuary English has grown profoundly. Geographically, it is said to be heard all over the South-East of England and also penetrating into the west. Much regional variation is being lost as a large number of Traditional Dialects covering small geographical areas are gradually disappearing, making way for the "Modern Dialect", which covers much larger scales of land. Socially, it has allegedly penetrated into the upper-class.

The growing number of its speakers is astounding. Nowadays many famous people, including people of the media, teachers and politicians, use this variety of English, even though it was thought to be a language of the lower middle-class. A number of scholars and phoneticians are assuming and predicting an even wider use - eventually leading up to Estuary English replacing Received Pronunciation.

This research paper focuses on the phenomenon of "Estuary English" - information about the origin and nature of the variety, the characteristic features, and future predictions as well as how others perceive the issue. It will also include a research of the speeches of Tony Blair, The Queen and Gordon Brown on the basis of whether Estuary English is slowly vaporising the phonological boundaries of the social classes or not.

I chose this topic to have an insight to the future events that might take place. As regional dialects are slowly vanishing and the usage of Estuary English is growing, the opportunity of monitoring the new wave of English as it emerges can be fascinating.


The term introduced by Rosewarne has developed a lot of excitement on many levels - some phoneticians argue against it, others fight for it. Nevertheless, the use of the variety has been sighted growing as it is a middle-ground for the upper and the lower-class.

Rosewarne introduced "Estuary English" as "A variety of modified regional speech. It is a mixture of non-regional and local south-eastern English pronunciation and intonation. If one imagines a continuum with Received Pronunciation and London speech at either end, "Estuary English" speakers are to be found grouped in the middle ground."(Estuary English: Tomorrow's RP?)

The term "Estuary English" was coined by British linguist David Rosewarne in a ground-breaking article published in The Times Educational Supplement in October 1984 (Estuary English: Tomorrow's RP?). Rosewarne published another article in 1994 -'Estuary English: tomorrow's RP?', in which he added new facts to his previous work. In his 1994 publication he explained why he introduced the new term (or the new variety):"While doing post-graduate studies in Applied Linguistics in London in 1983, I felt that existing descriptions of pronunciation varieties made no real mention of accents intermediate between R.P. and localisable British forms." (Estuary English: Tomorrow's RP?)

Rosewarne's publications and Paul Coggle's publication of the book "Do you speak Estuary? " in 1993 lead the way for a number of articles examining the nature, structure, and other characteristics of the variety. When the phenomenon was popularized in the 1990s, other linguists began to take the possibility of this new variety more seriously. The phonetician Parsons even called it the new 'RP' in 1998 (From RP to Estuary English), when at the other end many journalists and politicians remain dubious towards the term even and call it a haphazard version of the Cockney accent (Maidment: "Estuary English: Hybrid or Hype? 1994), even when numerous surveys have been carried out and it has been examined with scrutiny many times.

Rosewarne chose the name "estuary" after the region from which the new variety of English was thought to have spread - the banks of the river Thames and its estuary (Estuary English, 1984). The term, however, has excited resentment among many linguists - many saying it is controversial because it is not only spoken on or near the Thames estuary, but in places further from there and that there is no clear evidence that it emerged from the Thames estuary (Maidment: "Estuary Engslish: Hybrid or Hype?" 1994). Controversy also remains over the matter whether it is a regiolect, a dialect, an accent or a style.

Other terms for the name were suggested, such as "General London" and "London English", (Wells, John."What is Estuary English?"1997.) because the Cockney accent originates from London, but also the term 'Post-Modern English', referring to the recent development of the variety (Maidment: Estuary English: Hybrid of Hype? 1994). But as the term has already widely spread, it would be unwise to change the name now. Thus the contention over the topic is quite meaningless.

Estuary English is most commonly associated with the young, many saying that even the upper-class young tend to use it now as a ways to be more like the middle and lower class. Young people, who are not so well off, often adapt to it because it sounds more sophisticated, making Estuary English a middle-way for both the well-off and the poorer people. As mentioned in the introduction, the variety is attractive to many - celebrities and businessmen as well as Members of Parliament and members of the royal family are spotted using it (Wells, John."What is Estuary English?"1997).

Estuary English has brought up a lot of excitement. Even though many scholars remain dubious to the existence of such a new variety, the people talk otherwise - quite literally.

Features of Estuary English

The features of Estuary English are the results of the confluence of Standard English Pronunciation (RP) and the Cockney accent. Rosewarne described it:" If one imagines a continuum with Received Pronunciation and London speech at either end, EE speakers are to be found grouped in the middle ground. "(Estuary English: Tomorrow's RP? 1994)

Some characteristics, which differentiate from both RP and Cockney and are presumed to be typical to Estuary English, are brought out in the next paragraphs. They appear at a lexical, phonological and grammatical level.

L-vocalization - the use of [o], [ʊ], or [ɯ] where RP uses [ɫ] in the final positions or in a final consonant cluster. As in the word milk pronounced as "miok" ( Joanna Ryfa, Estuary English: A controversial issue?) (

Glottaling or using a glottal stop (ʔ) instead of 't' or 'd'. Mostly used at the end of a word or before another consonant sound. E.g. the word but pronounced /bʌʔ/ (Joanna Ryfa, Estuary English: A controversial issue?)

Yod-coalescence (in stressed syllables). The use of the affricates /ʤ/ and /ʧ/ instead of the clusters /dj/ and /tj/ such as tune and /tʃu:n/, also in words like Tuesday and attitude. (

A broad A (ɑː) in words such as bath, grass, laugh, etc. (

Non-rhoticity - Rhotic speakers pronounce written /r/ in all positions, while non-rhotic speakers pronounce /r/ only if it is followed by a vowel sound and not always even then. (

Use of intrusive R. An epenthetic [ɹ] is added after a word that ends in a non-high vowel or glide if the next word begins with a vowel, regardless of whether the first word historically ended with /ɹ/ or not. For example, intrusive R would appear in Asia[ɹ] and Africa or the idea[ɹ] of it: Asia and idea did not historically end in /ɹ/, but the [ɹ] is inserted epenthetically to prevent a hiatus. Intrusive R also occurs within words before certain suffixes, such as draw[ɹ]ing or withdraw[ɹ]al. (

Y-tensing, using a sound more similar to the /i:/ of beat than to the /i/ of bit, at the end of words like happy, coffee, valley. (Joanna Ryfa, Estuary English: A controversial issue?)

Use of confrontational question tags. For example, "We're going later, aren't we?", "I said that, didn't I?" (

The omission of the -ly adverbial ending, as in You're turning it too slow, They talked very quiet for a while, (David Crystal, Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language,1995)

Certain prepositional uses, such as l got off of the bench, I looked out the window. (David Crystal, Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language.1995)

Generalization of the third person singular form (I gets out of the car), especially in narrative style; also the generalized past tense use of was, as in We was walking down the road. (David Crystal, Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language,1995)

Frequent use of the word cheers for Thank you and Goodbye

Use of the word mate instead of "friend", which is RP.

Extension of the actual meaning of the word basically to use it as a gap filler. (Rosewarne, Estuary English: Tomorrow's RP?) (David Crystal, Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language,1995)

Still, both Coggle and Rosewarne, although mentioning these characteristics in their featured articles, claim that features such as usage of the word "cheers" is also growingly common among young people, and is a not marker of Estuary English. Thus it is difficult to differentiate between the rising use of Estuary English, and the rising use of colloquial English.

Estuary English speakers are very open to influence from American English, thus the usage of Americanisms is common. Some Americanisms adopted by Estuary English speakers with their British equivalents:

British (B) - Here you are; Americanism (A) - There you go

B- Sorry; A - Excuse me

B- By no means; A - No way

B - I hope that; A- Hopefully

B - Hello; A - Hi

B- Correct; A- Right

B- Certainly; A- Sure

Some characteristics that are typically Cockney but misleadingly considered as Estuary English are:

Th-fronting, i.e., replacement of [θ, ð] with [f, v] (e.g. [fɪŋk] for think)

H-dropping, i.e., Dropping [h] in stressed words (e.g. [æÊ”] for hat)

Double negation. However, Estuary English may use never in case where not would be standard. For example, "he did not" [in reference to a single occasion] might become "he never did". (

Estuary English as a variety of English comes on many different levels. Even though it is a new variety, the characteristics are already quite clear.

An analysis of Tony Blair's, The Queen's and Gordon Brown's speeches - the use of Estuary English over time.

It is said that estuary English has climbed up the social ladder and its' features can be heard in the Parliament. I analysed the speeches of Tony Blair, The Queen and Gordon Brown, comparing their speeches from twenty years ago with the ones they carry out now.

Tony Blair's speeches

Tony Blair was born in Scotland and also educated there. As any other Member of Parliament he speaks English with Received Pronunciation, but some articles suggest that his use of Estuary English has grown over the last decades.

The earliest Tony Blair's speech I found in audio was carried out in 1997 - his "Victory Speech" for becoming the prime minister. I compared the language of it with speeches from 2006, 2007 and 2010.

The differences concerning the use of Estuary English were:

L-vocalization. This was the most prominent of Estuary characteristics. Words in which he used it were "killed", "built" (Reuters Media Control speech 2007), "deal", "will"(General Election Victory speech 1997), "well"(Farewell speech 2006)

Glottalisation. Words in which he used it were "better" (General Election Victory speech 1997; Farewell speech 2006), "little bit", "but", "not" (Farewell speech 2006).

Non-rhoticity. In the words "target","fair" (Cardinal's lecture 2008)

The use of Estuary English has definitely grown, though it cannot be said that the usage of it is enormous. Most apparent differences can be seen in the use of glottalisation - in the 2010 example he used it the most. Though some say that Tony Blair changes his accent when speaking to differentaudiences (Arthur, Charles. "Language: Estuary English engulfs a nation" 1998)

- in the parliament he uses RP and on television giving interviews he uses Estuary English to win the middle-class over, the speeches I analysed had the same characteristics in most of them, contradicting with what the media said about his usage of Estuary English depending on the audience.

The Queen's speeches

The Queen should be the prime example of perfect Received Pronunciation. In 2006 Neil Tweedie wrote about the queens changing language, including that "Her Majesty may not be quite ready to engage in fully-fledged Bermondsey banter with Jade Goody, but her speech has nevertheless followed the general trend from cut-glass URP (Upper Rec-eived Pronunciation) towards the more democratic Standard Received Pronunciation and its close relative, Standard Southern British English." (How Queen's English has grown more like ours). I analysed her speeches with no real expectation to find anything.

For the earliest speech I took "The Queen's Christmas Message" from 1992 and the last ones are from 2008, 2009, 2010.

There were not many examples to be found, but the ones I discovered were:

Glottalisation. Words like "forgotten", "but"(Christmas speech 2008;Christmas speech 2009)

Non-rhoticity in "there"(Christmas speech 2008), "simpler"(Christmas speech 1992)

The usage of Estuary English in the Queen's speeches is minimal.

Gordon Brown's speeches

I chose Gordon Brown for my third study because he should be somewhere in the middle of Tony Blair and The Queen, concerning the usage of Estuary English. Gordon Brown was born in Scotland and also educated there, thus his pronunciation was a bit Scottish. His use of English has not been talked about in the media.

I analysed his speeches from 1985 and 1992 to 2009, 2010. What I found out was:

Glottalisation in the word "Britain "(Speech for Citizens UK 2010), "let"(Resignation speech 2010)

L-volcalisation in words "brilliant"(Speech for Citizens UK 2010;Resignation speech 2010), "million"(Speech for Citizens UK 2010), "will"(2009 Labour Conference speech), "well" (Resignation speech 2010)

Gordon Brown's usage of Estuary English is minor. Though there are some examples of it, he cannot be called an example of Estuary English, but the usage of it has definitely grown.

Conclusion of the research

My research shows that there are not any lexical examples of Estuary English in these three cases, but some pronunciational differences do appear in the speeches of Tony Blair, The Queen and Gordon Brown. The characteristics of Estuary English that appeared are mostly the same - glottalisation and l-vocalisation being the most prominent. Although the usage of Estuary English is minimal, it still has grown. It can be explained in two ways - either Estuary English is filtering into the speech of parliamentarians and the Queen, or Estuary English is used for identifying with the middle-class.

Future predictions for Estuary English

Through time, Estuary English has influenced RP, and it will continue to do so. In the 1980s, when Rosewarne first published his essay, it received little attention. When he republished the essay in a slightly longer version in 1994, it received the acknowledgement it deserved. After that the term and its possibility of taking over RP has been all over the media.

Rosewarne in 1984 speculated that "in the long run it may influence the speech of all but the linguistically most isolated, among the highest and lowest socio-economic groups" who may then become "linguistically conservative minorities". He even suggested Estuary English to take over the Standard English pronunciation. (Estuary English: Tomorrow's RP?)

At first Rosewarne was almost alone with his theory, but since them the acknowledgement has grown. Although many linguistics still contravene with the subject, the most prominent linguistics, such as Coggle, have fortified the term with additional research on the matter.

As young people are highly affected by the media, it carries the most influential part in the development of the speech of young people. That is why teenagers' idols like David Beckham and Lily Allen, who speak immaculate Estuary English, have a huge affect on teenagers' speech. In addition to these teen-idols, there are many television shows such as "Eastenders" which carry out clear cut Estuary English. And since most of the teenagers are affected, in some generations the pronunciational differences between the social classes may vanish.

In my opinion, Estuary English is definitely on the rise and spreading rapidly. Though the effects of Estuary English have not occurred in Scotland, Wales or Ireland, in some time, it may be possible too. Estuary English is an increasing variety which is penetrating through the boundaries of social classes and the media.


Estuary English is a variety of English that is growing rapidly. It is a mixture of Cockney English and Received Pronunciation. Estuary English is acceptable to both the upper-class and the lower-classes, benefiting them both. It influences both the regional varieties and the diminishing class-distinctive speech.

Estuary English can be heard everywhere - from the street to the Parliament building. As research shows, the usage of Estuary English in Tony Blair's, The Queen's and Gordon Brown's speeches has also grown, even though the size of the futility varies greatly. From these three Tony Blair was the keenest Estuary English speaker, leaving Gordon Brown second, and The Queen the last. Their usage of Estuary English limits to the pronunciational level, leaving aside the lexical and grammatical side.

The future of Estuary English promises an even wider use - from the lower class to the upper class, from the east coast to the west coast. Estuary English may be the next Received Pronunciation.