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Web documents relating to

Estuary English

Estuary English is a name given to the form(s) of English widely spoken in and around London and, more generally, in the southeast of England — along the river Thames and its estuary. On this website we hope to bring together as many documents as possible that relate to Estuary English, as a convenient resource for the many interested enquirers.

Site last updated

The site is regularly updated. All offerings gratefully received. Please contact me if you would like to suggest or offer something for the website. John Wells

Another website devoted to Estuary English, by someone who claims to be a fluent native speaker: Gary’s Estuary Homepage

No accent is intrinsically good or bad, but it has to be recognized that the way we perceive accents does play a role in our attitude to others. Different people have differing perceptions. So there are significant numbers of young people who see Estuary English as modern, up-front, high on 'street cred' and ideal for image-conscious trendsetters. Others regard it as projecting an approachable, informal and flexible image. Whereas RP, Queen's English, Oxford English and Sloane Ranger English are all increasingly perceived as exclusive and formal. —Paul Coggle, 1993, in Do you speak Estuary?
  1. Books
  2. Articles, monographs
  3. Abstracts, lecture handouts
  4. Bibliography
  5. Usenet (etc.) postings
  6. Of related interest
  7. Light journalism
  8. Note re IPA symbols
"Even his accent makes the point. Far from the Estuary English of his detractors and nearer to Chaucer than Prince Charles, it announces itself unaffected by the intimidating pressures of the control dialect of English society." —Melvyn Bragg about Greg Dyke, new Director-General of the BBC, in The Observer, 27 June 1999

"...joined Nato in 1981 as a minute-taker; fluent in five languages other than Estuary English - French, German, Dutch, Italian and Nato-ese. —Pass notes on Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman, The Guardian London, 19 April 1999

0. Books

  • Joanna Przedlacka, 2002. Estuary English? A sociophonetic study of teenage speech in the Home Counties. ISBN 3-631-39340-7, pb. Bern: Peter Lang (ordering info). Demolishes the claim that EE is a single entity sweeping the southeast. Rather, we have various sound changes emanating from working-class London speech, each spreading independently. Recommended. See my handout.
  • Ulrike Altendorf, 2003. Estuary English. Levelling at the Interface of RP and South-Eastern British English. ISBN: 3-8233-6022-1 Tübingen: Gunter Narr (summary; sample chapter: Explaining results).
  • Steve Crancher, 2002. Dijja wanna say sumfing?. Ian Henry Pubs. Not serious.
  • Paul Coggle, 1993. Do you speak Estuary?. The new Standard English – How to spot it and speak it. ISBN 0 7475 1656 1. London: Bloomsbury.
click to enlarge

1. Articles, monographs

  • Estuary Engish. The Times Ed. Supp. article that started it all (David Rosewarne, 1984). With a biographical note (1999).
  • Britain's crumbling ruling class is losing the accent of authority. An article in the Independent on Sunday (Neil Ascherson, 1994)
  • Estuary English. An article in the Guardian Education section, from the point of view of teachers of English in British schools (Tony Bex, 1994)
  • Transcribing Estuary English -- a discussion document. A paper published in Speech Hearing and Language (John Wells, 1994). You really do need on-screen phonetic symbols for this one:
  • Estuary English -- Hybrid or Hype?. A paper presented at the 4th NZ Conference on Language & Society, Christchurch, NZ (John Maidment, 1994)
  • Estuary English: tomorrow's RP? (David Rosewarne, 1994). Published in English Today 37, vol. 10, no. 1 (January 1994), pages 3-8)
  • Estuary English. From the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (David Crystal, 1995)
  • Estuary English. A web page from Pädagogische Akademie der Diözese Linz (Friedrich Schönberger, 1996)
  • What is Estuary English? EFL-oriented article. (J.C.Wells, 1997) IPA-SAM version
  • From "RP" to "Estuary English": the concept 'received' and the debate about British pronunciation standards. Acrobat. (Original English version, Gudrun Parsons, 1998.) Also the German version: Von "RP" zu "Estuary English": der Begriff 'received' und die Diskussion um einen britischen Aussprachestandard. University of Hamburg MA dissertation. 120 pp. Acrobat. (Gudrun Parsons, 1998).
  • Untersuchungen zum `Estuary English' an einer `Public School' in Südengland. University of Münster dissertation. 109 pp. [Investigations of Estuary English at a public school in the south of England. In German. Acrobat version only.] (Carsten Hüttermann, 1999). Yes, EE has penetrated the public schools, though it's the RP end of the EE spectrum, and the boys rather more than the girls. Meticulous discussion. The author would welcome comments or discussion. Diagrams in a separate file.
  • Estuary English: is English going Cockney? Moderna Språk, XCIII, 1, 1-11 Acrobat version only. (Ulrike Altendorf, 1999) Well, up to a point -- plenty of l-vocalisation; t-glottalling in certain environments; but no th-fronting in EE.
  • The case of Estuary English: supposed evidence and a perceptual approach (Ruedi Haenni, 1999). University of Basel dissertation. 125 pp + appendices. Acrobat version only. A fascinating study of how people perceive accents. Haenni comes to the view that "there is no convincing way to describe (let alone to define) the concept [of EE] conclusively. [...] It is thus very difficult to uphold the notion of EE as a distinct variety in its own right." The author would welcome comments or discussion.
  • Estuary English - a sociophonetic study (Joanna Przedlacka, 1999). PhD dissertation, University of Warsaw. Read a summary, including sound files (.wav), on the author's home page; also a related article, Estuary English and RP: some recent findings. "I did fieldwork in four Home Counties: Buckinghamshire, Kent,Essex and Surrey. Fourteen sociophonetic variables were investigated in the study. I looked at differences between thecounties, male and female speakers and two social classes. All data came from a word elicitation task from sixteen teenagespeakers. The study showed that there is no homogeneity in the accents spoken in the area..."
  • El inglés del estuario y las innovaciones fonéticas del habla londinense. ['Estuary English and the phonetic innovations in London speech'. In Spanish.] Acrobat version only. Antonio Lillo, Univ. de Alicante. Published in Atlantis, 21 (1999): 59-77. Includes a good bibliography.
  • See also 'South East London English: discrete versus continuous modelling of consonantal reduction' (Laura Tollfree, 1999), in Foulkes, P. and Docherty, G.J. (eds.), Urban Voices, London: Arnold, 1999.
  • Estuary English - Entwicklung, linguistische Beschreibung und sozialer Hintergrund. ['Estuary English - development, linguistic description and social background'. In German.] (Lothar Hilgers, 2000) Word document. Requires SIL Manuscript IPA93 font. Univ. of Trier master's dissertation. "Many of these features can indeed be found on radio news (though in most cases not in very high proportions), some of them even on the most prestigious station (Radio 4). Nevertheless, they are mostly in evidence on those stations that are mainly addressed to younger people (Virgin Radio, Radio 1)... For me EE is not the future RP, but only one (though possibly the most important one) of several regionally modified versions that altogether might take over the place of traditional RP."
  • T-glottalling between stigma and prestige: a sociolinguistic study of modern RP (Anne Fabricius, 2000). Ph.D. thesis, Copenhagen Business School. 180 pages. Acrobat version only. Concludes that
    • 1. T-glottalling in modern RP is stable in pre-consonantal environments in both speechstyles and is accepted by these speakers in formal and non-formal speech.
    • 2. It has entered modern RP as a vernacular change (spreading out from London), but itsvernacular status is obscured by other factors.
    • 3. It has to some extent lost its stigma, but not yet acquired prestige, in word-final pre-pausaland pre-vocalic environments.
  • The sociolinguistics of modern RP (Peter Trudgill, forthcoming). A chapter from his book Sociolinguistic Variation and Change, due out in 2001. Includes (towards the end) a discussion of EE. The author does not agree that it would now make moresense to teach EFL learners 'Estuary English' rather than RP.
  • Dialect levelling and received pronunciation (Paul Kerswill, 2000). An article originally published as Mobility, meritocracy and dialect levelling: the fading (and phasing) out of Received Pronunciation, in Pilvi Rajame (ed.) (2001). British Studies in the New Millennium: Challenge of the Grassroots. Proceedings of the 3rd Tartu Conference on British Studies, University of Tartu, Estonia, August 2000. Contains a section on EE, where Kerswill holds Mrs Thatcher responsible (almost) for the spread of EE.
  • The establishment of the English RP accent : a flawed interpretation? (John Honey, 2000). A review article of Linda Mugglestone, Talking Proper, published in Bulletin of the International Association of University Professors of English, Autumn 2000. This is the same John Honey whose book Language is Power is reviewed below (section 5), and whose political views on language differ from those of most linguists.
  • Glottalisierung und Elision von [t] im modernen Englisch: eine soziophonetische Studie ['Glottalization and elision of [t] in modern English: a sociophonetic study'. In German] (Frank Lorenz, 2002). MA dissertation, U. of Jena. 'A phenomenon that offers a relevant and interesting perspective on all areas of linguistic study'. 'Thus RP in its original definition is no longer tenable as a standard pronunciation.' (p. 53; my translation, JCW)
  • Estuary English — the new classless accent? (Guðlaug Hilmarsdóttir). BA dissertation. Includes a sound clip of David Beckham with transcription and phonetic analysis.
"Somebody who went to a good university has no excuse for speaking in that ghastly estuary sludge" --Michael Henderson, in the Daily Telegraph, referring to the England cricket captain, Nasser Hussain
"While attacking people on ground of race, sex or age is considered politically incorrect, it is still surprisingly common to encounter attacks based on accent, especially if those accents originate in the lower classes. In theory, it ought to be possible to convince fair-minded people that all accents are equally valid, as long as they are mutually intelligible. However, since I and many other linguists have over the past two or three decades failed miserably in our efforts to convince, I have come to the conclusion that we should introduce into our schools 'language awareness programmes' which cover not only the features of Received Pronunciation and local accents, but also the common reactions which the more stigmatised varieties evoke."--Paul Coggle, in a letter to the Times Ed. Supp., 4 Nov 1994

2. Abstracts, lecture handouts

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle
learns to 'speak proper'
from Rex Harrison's Prof Higgins

3. Bibliography

  • References for Estuary English. A comprehensive bibliography. (Main contributors: Céline Horgues, Carsten Hüttermann, Pia Köhlmyr, and Gudrun Parsons, 1998)
The glottal stop found in Cockney and in many Estuary English speakers ('sa(?)elli(?)e dish' and 'Conserva(?)ive par(?)y' for 'satellite dish' and 'Conservative Party') is a feature belonging to these particular accents, and is not a result of sloppy speech.[...] Wherever the glottal stop occurs - whether in Estuary English territory or in Glasgow - it is disdained by many members of the middle and upper classes. --Paul Coggle, in a letter to the Times Ed. Supp., 4 Nov 1994

4. Usenet (etc.) postings, FAQs

Has the belief that there is only one form of English pronunciation given way to the idea that there is only one estuary along the British coast? --Neil Burgess, in a letter to The Guardian, 22 June 1999

5. Of related interest

Not exactly about EE, but relevant:

6. Light journalism etc.

Don't believe everything you read here! There's tendentious reporting, unsupported claims, and sensational exaggeration... but it tells you what people are thinking and sometimes alerts you to new research. We're gradually adding older archive material, as well as new stuff. Original graphics may be missing, and original links may not work.

  • I believe in Estuary English. From the Daily Telegraph (Sinclair McKay, 1996) -- with comments by J.C.Wells
  • How you say it puts the accent on success. Article in the Daily Telegraph. Scousers, Brummies, and Glaswegians are discriminated against. (Kate Watson Smyth, 2 January 1997)
  • We wanna talk like common people. Feature article in the Daily Telegraph. 'Serious "downgrading" began in the Eighties, among the students who colonised the inner cities, squatting in council flats and opening galleries and vegetarian cafés. Since then it has become the lingua franca of teaching and social work.' (Kirsten Sellars, 21 June 1997)
  • Goo-goo goo, ga-ga ga. Article in Times Ed. Supp.. John Honey 'despairs of EE and Cockney glottal stops' (Diane Spencer, 8 Aug 1997)
  • A be'er bi' of Engwish. An article in the Times Ed. Supp.. John Honey again. (Clare Dean, 22 Aug 1997)
  • Talking proper is sex not class issue. An article in the Times Ed. Supp. reporting on a PhD thesis by James Crinson, U. of Newcastle, dealing with teenage language. He found that there was a bigger difference between boys and girls than between children of different social classes. (Diane Spencer, 19 Dec 1997)
  • Blair tradisce l'inglese colto [Blair betrays educated English. In Italian.] Article in Il Corriere della Sera. Makes the strange claim that EE is 'similar to American slang'. (Matteo Persivale, 20 June 1998)
  • oi! just you mind your language. An article in Midweek, a London freesheet. (Matthew Bell, 8 Jan 1999)
  • Glasgow puts an accent on Estuary. Report in The Times, London. (Gillian Harris, 20 Feb 1999) -- with comments by John Wells
  • Nuffink wrong wiv accents, guv. Feature article in the Evening Standard, London. (Simon Jenkins, 4 March 1999)
  • The accent that dare not speak its name. Feature article in The Independent on Sunday, London (John Morrish, 22 March 1999)
  • London: multilingual capital of the world. Article in The Independent, London (Andrew Buncombe and Tessa MacArthur, 29 March 1999)
  • Scouse is threatened by a rising tide of Estuary English. Report in The Independent, London (Kathy Marks, 1 June 1999) with comments in reply, by Andrew Hamer
  • Much ado about nuffin'. Feature article in The Guardian, London -- a reaction to the above (Louisa Young, 2 June 1999)
  • Lost voices. Feature article in The Guardian, London (John Mullan, 18 June 1999)
  • Sieg der Silbenschlucker [Victory for the syllable-swallowers. In German.] Feature article in Süddeutsche Zeitung. The usual stuff about EE, finishing however with the claim that poor old England has forgotten about our transatlantic ex-colony, with whose language 'British kids are just as fascinated as those of the rest of the world'. To which we might reply, then why are we continuing to develop and adopt new forms of British English? Or does SZ, too, think that EE is American? (Petra Steinberger, 28 June 1999) --jetzt mit Kommentar von / with comments by Carsten Hüttermann
  • Teletotties say 'rilly gid'. Feature article in the Sunday Times (Philip Norman, 14 Feb. 1999). Pronunciation trends among presenters of children's TV. The author thinks that EE is found only in Essex, so doesn't call these trends EE. He draws attention to developments in the vowels /ʊ/ and /əʊ/, to the supposed loss of /t/ (actually, glottalling), and to various lexical matters.
  • Calm down yourself. Feature article in The Guardian Weekend magazine. About Liverpool, with reference to its accent, supposedly unattractive to the English but attractive to Americans. (Linda Grant, 10 July 1999)
  • Glaswegian tainted by the strains of Sarf Lunnun. Feature article in The Independent. Developments in Glaswegian English that may reflect features of EE. (Fred Bridgland, 28 June 2000).
  • Nae bovver. Feature article in The Guardian Higher Education section. See preceding entry. (John Crace, 18 July 2000)
  • Scousers put the accent on success. Feature article in The Guardian. Claims that Liverpool speech is now favoured for call centres, while "estuary English, the recognised accent of the south east, appears less popular: east London, Reading and Southend finished near the bottom of the list.". (David Ward, 22 Sep 2000).
  • Impress your clients: speak like Robbie. --Robbie Williams, that is, with his Stoke-on-Trent accent. Feature article in The Independent on Sunday. Dr Coggle suggests RW as a suitable voice for 'fronting a company pitch'. (Kate Hilpern, 1 Oct 2000)
  • The Queen's English of today: my 'usband and I. Feature article in The Guardian (Tim Radford, 21 Dec 2000). Another report of the same research, but sensationalized: Cor blimey! Even the Queen no longer speaks the Queen's English. Feature article in The Independent (Steve Connor, 21 Dec 2000)
  • Scouse accent kills Lisa's Dublin dream. News article from The Irish Post (17 Mar 2001): not about EE, but showing that accent discrimination is alive and well... in Ireland.
  • Geordie dialect gannin out of fashion. Feature article in The Guardian (Martin Wainwright, Friday April 6, 2001). Reported demise much exaggerated.
  • Speak proper? Not likely. Feature article from the Sunday Times (India Knight, 11 Nov 2001). Claims that the only speakers discriminated against nowadays are the speakers of RP.
  • Finding a gag that takes the biscuit (excerpt). Part of a feature from the Guardian (22 Dec 2001). With comments from JCW.
  • All raait! It's a new black-white lingo. Article from the Sunday Times (Steven Swinford and Laura St Quinton, 11 Dec 2005). Britain's "first multi-ethnic dialect" in inner-city London.
There is a peculiar pronunciation common to Londoners, and the stranger who has a careful ear can at once distinguish it from the pronunciation of Manchester or Bristol, and easily from that of an American.

—American author David Bartlett, London by Day and Night, 1852

In these web documents, IPA symbols that cannot be shown in ASCII have been replaced by the corresponding SAMPA symbols. We are experimenting, however, with ways of making IPA symbols available on the web. Some documents are available in alternative versions, with proper IPA symbols. There are several possible formats for this:
  • IPA-SAM, which requires that you have a not-too-old browser (font-compliant, 3.1 or later), and the IPA-SAM fonts installed (read about them, and download them free, here); SIL, which requires a font-compliant browser and the SIL fonts installed (download them free of charge from here) -- but note that this font has very unsatisfactory dark-l and syllabicity-mark-under symbols; Unicode, which requires a modern Unicode-compliant browser such as IExplorer 4 or Netscape 4, and a Unicode font including IPA installed. (If using Windows 95 or later, download Lucida Sans Unicode free here.)
  • Adobe Acrobat PDF format -- needs no special fonts; your browser may be able to handle these files already, but if not all you need to do is to install the FREE Acrobat Reader, which you can download from here
Please tell us whether you like these ways of showing IPA symbols on the web, and which you prefer. (All this assumes Windows 95 or later. Probably only SIL and Acrobat will work on a Mac.)

Do not be misled by the title of the work Shallow-Water Dictionary; A Grounding In Estuary English, by Stilgoe, John R., Paperback - 48 pages (August 1994) Princeton Architectural Press; ISBN: 1568980299. The blurb reads: "Stilgoe's definitions are lyric explanations of the vernacular language of America's nearly extinct shallow-water regions." A blow for Rosewarne's London-centred view of the universe.

First posted on the web 1998 11 09, transferred to new site 1999 06 04, last revised 2007 03 11

J.C.Wells home page, e-mail.
UCL P&L home page


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