Estuary English

A posting by Pia Köhlmyr to the LINGUIST list, 3 October 1996

Mirrored from

Some time ago I posted a query about the latest information on Estuary English. I got several replies (and further questions) and I'd like to thank all of you and especially the following: Ted Harding, Tony Bex, Paul Foulkes,and Paul Kerswill. Sorry about the late summary but here it is.

What is Estuary English and where do we find it??

Most (linguistic) people seem to agree on EE being a variant (accent) that is rapidly spreading in England.It can apparently be found in the area south of The Wash to the Avon. Linguists have described it as "a levelling of regional varieties towards London speech" and a "mixture of non-regional and local south-eastern English pronunciation and intonation". In letters-to-the-editor columns the debate has been heated; it's been called "slobspeak", ugly and vulgar, a "thing" that has to be corrected especially in school. Pronunciation traits include vocalisation of dark /l/ the use of glottal stops in certain positions, the change of st- (station, estuary, Christian) and -str- (strike, industrial, instruction) to the sound of sh- in she. This was observed on the BBC only a month ago. The quality of some vowels and diphthongs change which can lead to homophones like: way- why , say- sigh, pulls-pools-Paul's (- pause). Other features are: vocabulary (Americanisms and Cockney, the adding of basically), tags are very frequent (inni',don't I),stressing prepositions and auxiliary verbs (which can create misunderstanfings:"Totters have been in operation FOR years").Several other features can be seen but I will refrain from giving more on this here.Suggestions for further reading will be put at the end of this SUM.

Who speaks EE?

It is very popular among the young probably because it is said to obscure social origins - very often it is adopted as a neutral accent.It increases "street cred" among the young from an RP background and young people with local accents adopt it because it sounds more "sophisticated". EE speakers are to be found "grouped in the middle ground", but it can be heard in the House of Commons as well as being used by some of the members of the Lords. It can be heard on the BBC and it is well established among the business men in the City.

These are very interesting changes in language that we are witnessing and here are some tips on what to read:

Mrs Pia Köhlmyr (PhD student)           Phone:  Int +46 (0)31 773 17 83
Gothenburg University                   E-mail:
Department of English                   Fax:    Int +46 (0)31 773 47 26
S-412 98 Gothenburg

Posted on this UCL P&L site 1998 11 27

The Estuary English site