Cockney English is probably the most commonly known variety of English in Modern day times. Cockney English is the type of English that is generally found in many movies so that directors can help the audience to distinguish between the working class and the upper, richer class when watching said movies. Although it is true that Cockney English is generally that which is spoken by the working class, Cockney English has a long and extensive history which most people know little about.
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The earliest record of the use of the word ‘cockney’ was found in the book ‘the Vision of William Concerning Piers Plowman’ By William Langland. The term cockney was first found in Middle English. It was created from two separate words, cocken meaning rooster and eye meaning egg. This then gave us the meaning of a small, deformed egg. The word then later experienced a change in spelling and appears as cockenay. This word as well as evolving and changing the word itself has also taken on new meanings. It now means a homosexual man, a timid person (milksop) or a child who is said to be childish. The idea for this word being used for a homosexual man continued and in 1521, it became a derogatory term for these people as well as for male prostitutes. Finally, in the 1600’s, the word had another semantic shift and as far as history can tell, a shift in the way the word was spelt. It is now spelt as we know it to be now, ‘cockney’, and it is now used to describe those Londoner’s who are born in the vicinity of Bow Bells. Bow Bells are those rang in the historic church of St Mary-le-Bow in London. In this time, it was said that for a person to be considered a true Cockney, they must live within earshot of these Bow Bells.
Nowadays, the area in which people with Cockney accents are said to reside has not been clearly outlined by any historians. The belief, as stated in the previous paragraph, is that one must live in the vicinity of the famous Bow Bells. In today’s society, it is now believed that the Cockney people are those of the working class and it is therefore believed that people with Cockney accents are the working class of London living in the east End of London. However, due to migration and emigration of people who have Cockney accents, a migration of the Cockney dialect has occurred. In the 18th century, the area in which people had Cockney accents was limited, but due to this Migration and emigration, the accent and its dialect has spread across not only London, but through other countries as well. Within a short amount of time during the 18th century, areas in London which had other dialect influences such as Kentish were taken over by this Celtic dialect. In today’s society however, areas which were highly associated with Cockney English are slowly declining in their use of the dialect and the Cockney accent is slowly dying out due to the preference of the proper English dialect due to its higher level of classiness. Nevertheless, many of the idioms associated with Cockney such as the famous glottal stops and double negatives are still commonly used in today’s society.
People with Cockney accents are very distinct from those who have the more popular, general English accent. The Cockney accent itself also has very distinct features such as rhyming slang and the use of the double negative. Although it is believed that many of the word in Cockney accent were made up by the people with said accent, many of their words, like other languages, were borrowed from other languages including Yiddish, a dialect of High German. Words that were borrowed from Yiddish for example were ‘Kosher’ meaning legitimate and ‘Stumm’ meaning quiet. These words, although seeming meaningless, were an important part of the Cockney Dialect. Some of the more well known features of the Cockney accent are; the dropping of the letter R e.g. if a person is a sinner, if a person had a Cockney accent, they would be a sinna. Cockney English also includes the famous Glottal stop. This means that the consonant is stopped quickly and the speaker then moves straight to the vowel e.g. this can be found in the word ‘uh-oh’ which people use in everyday life. The speaker cuts of the h consonant and move directly onto the ‘o’ vowel. Another common feature of Cockney English is the changing of the th syllable to an F e.g. the word beneath becomes ‘beneaf’ due to the changing of the th syllable. Another famous stylistic marker of Cockney English is the dropping of the consonant H. One of the more famous examples of this is in the musical ‘My Fair lady’ when Eliza Doolittle calls Henry Higgins ‘Enry Iggins’ due to her Cockney accent. An example of Cockney English that people still use today is the double negative e.g. I don’t got no pens. The use of the words don’t and no are both negative and therefore cancel themselves out. In the years of Shakespeare, the double negative was used in his performances for humour but in the Cockney accent, it was used unintentionally. People with Cockney accents were considered to be those of the working class and therefore had very little education. They used the double negative not knowing what they were doing. Nowadays, the double negative is considered to be a mistake. Rhyming slang, another feature of Cockney English is still known in today’s society but not as well as it once was. Rhyming slang such as ‘Dear Horse, Tomato Sauce’ is an example of rhyming slang. This idea of rhyming slang is slowly dying out of society and eventually will probably not be known at all.
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As time went on and the word ‘Cockney’ experienced its final known semantic shift, the accent of Cockney was looked down upon by many people as it was believed to be the accent of the working class and therefore it was seen to be inferior to that of the proper, upper class accent. Cockney English was that which was spoken by the working class and homeless due to their lack of education. Nowadays, the Cockney accent as such is not longer looked down upon by people. It is now believed to be an important part of British culture. This was shown in a survey conducted on 2000 British people by Coolbrand in autumn of 2008. The Cockney accent was voted the equal fourth ‘coolest’ accent, with 20% of the total votes. This shows that although people prefer the accent of the Queen, that of the upper class, people no longer believe that Cockney is an accent that should be looked down upon and therefore the Cockney accent should continue to live throughout society for many years to come.
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