Can you save Cockney from becoming brown bread?
Cockney will be dead – brown bread – on the streets of London unless urgent action is taken.
A ‘Cockney Manifesto’ is being launched on ‘Speak Cockney Day’ on March 3rd (the ‘fird of the ‘fird) calling for seven steps to be taken to preserve and promote the London vernacular. The appeal is being made after linguistic experts predict the Cockney dialect will disappear from Capital within 20 years.
The campaign serves as a rallying call to action for anyone who cares about creating a better future for Cockney language, culture and identity. A special event is taking place online at 10am on Wednesday, March 3rd featuring two of the world’s leading experts on the subject – Professor Paul Kerswill of the University of York, Dr. Christopher Strelluf, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Warwick University – along with Andy Green of social enterprise Grow Social Capital.
The campaign’s appeal goes beyond the traditional definition of Cockney as someone born within the sound of Bow Bells, reaching out to the ‘Cockney Diaspora’, adopted Londoners, to those who believe dialect levelling is a bad thing and the world is a richer place with regional accents, whatever your place of birth, colour or creed.
The campaign also makes a call to tackle the issue of negative media stereotypes about anyone with a Cockney accent.
Despite a major study ten years ago by Professor Kerswill predicting that the Cockney accent will disappear from London’s streets within 30 years nothing has been done to address the issue.
A special online launch event of the Cockney Manifesto took place on Speak Cockney Day at 10am Wednesday March 3rd organised by Grow Social Capital. It is an open invitation for anyone interested in finding out more about the ‘Cockney Manifesto’ or would like to get involved in the campaign.
The ‘Cockney Manifesto’ and Speak Cockney Day are not about being nostalgic, trying to hang onto something past its sale date. Rather, it is about preserving a cultural diversity, a richness that defines London and British culture that now needs to be seen as relevant to new generations to ensure its cultural flame is kept alive
‘Speak Cockney Day’ on March 3rd aims to be a time to celebrate Cockney life and culture – and do something to give it a new future to stop it disappearing from the streets of London or lazily being used to reinforce negative cultural stereotypes.
The ‘Cockney Manifesto’ calls for:
- Establish Cockney as something worth celebrating and keeping alive, vibrant and relevant by monitoring its health and use
- Get London cultural organisations to pull their finger out and do something – including the London Assembly, Museum of London, Bishopsgate Institute, London’s universities, schools, theatres and others
- Get celebrity figures to support and celebrate its importance – such as Adele, Russell Brand, Michael Caine, Danny Dyer, Suggs and more
- Encourage Cockney culture’s relevance to young people
- Promote Cockney culture’s inclusivity – the ‘Pearly Burka’ – to celebrate shared identities
- Campaign for the BBC and other broadcasters to use more Cockney and other working-class accents, and avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes
- Create a wider social good to raise funds for charities linked with Cockney culture or London
The campaign for Speak Cockney Day is a completely non-commercial, independent idea being launched by new social enterprise Grow Social Capital. It works to make communities more confident, capable and connected by building togetherness through shared relationships and identities. This enables communities to be more vibrant, resilient and able.
“Cockney is more than an accent, or vernacular. It’s a state of being, a character, with virtues of self-reliance, magnanimity, a commercial nous, independence of spirit, egalitarianism, directness, and subversion of pretension and pomposity.” said Andy Green, a director of Grow Social Capital, and born at London’s East End Maternity Hospital in Stepney.
“Cockneys have always had to overcome class snobbery to survive. And it is this inferiority complex which probably spells a killer blow for ‘Cockney’. Sadly, our cultural heritage is looking doomed – unless we act.“
He added: “Language is dynamic. Any new hybrid 21st century London language would be more authentic, stronger-rooted, by having Cockney DNA in it. We need to change the narrative around Cockney away from being something stuck in the past to a future, where it will evolve and be different yet still exists. Hence, the need for a ‘Speak Cockney Day’ on March 3rd. It’s not pony, nor Brad Pitt, but a fight for something worth treasuring.”
Commenting on the need to reject prejudice that suppresses any variety of regional dialect, whether Cockney, Brum or Geordie, Dr. Christopher Strelluf said: “A dialect is not just a way of speaking, but a central aspect of our personal and cultural identities. If we can agree to celebrate Cockney speech, perhaps we can agree to celebrate Cockney features wherever they show up in English. If so, we can combat negative evaluations of accents and reduce the negative effects of these evaluations on speakers, while also celebrating the connections between our ways of speaking and our ways of living.”
NOTES TO NEWS EDITORS
Why Cockney is a cause for celebration – and action
Despite the Cockney accent having been around for more than 500 years, Professor Kerswill’s study claims it is being replaced in London by a new hybrid language: “Cockney in the East End is now transforming itself into Multicultural London English, a new, melting-pot mixture of all those people living here who learnt English as a second language”. (Copy of Professor Kerswill’s report here)
Conversely, migration of Cockney speakers has led to a ‘Cockney diaspora’ with the dialect, growing out of its traditional East End heartland, to encompass all of London, both sides of the Thames estuary, Essex and wherever Cockneys are in the world.
‘Cockneydom’ is celebrated in music, television and drama – and is a major icon of British culture.
The Cockney vernacular and slang however, has always had a challenge to be accepted.
The ‘Cockney School’ was a name given to a group of 19th century poets and essayists who came to prominence with poet John Keats as its figurehead. Interestingly, none of them were born within sight or sound of the East End’s Bow Bells (the true definition of a cockney) and only Moorgate-born Keats (then living in Hampstead) was a Londoner.
The 1817 edition of Blackwood’s Magazine used it as a derogatory term, attacking these middle class poets for having a cockney manifesto purely because they weren’t upper-middle class or writers of noble birth. Their liberal political views didn’t endear them to the elite either, nor did their choice of literary language, which the blue-blooded critics considered coarse. But this much-criticized ‘lower class’ movement produced some of England’s greatest poets – Shelley and Keats among them.
Victorian age working class poets later proudly reused the term. (Source)
In 1909 the London County Council Conference on the Teaching of English in London Elementary Schools stated, “the Cockney mode of speech, with its unpleasant twang, is a modern corruption without legitimate credentials, and is unworthy of being the speech of any person in the capital city of the Empire.”
Scratch the surface of English society, and stigma and snobbery about Cockney still prevails. And it is this inferiority complex which could spell the killer blow for ‘Cockney’.
The thinking behind the ‘Cockney Manifesto’ is a need to assert Cockney – its slang, vernacular and expressions – so it can be a valid part of, and flourish within a new linguistic melting pot that is evolving in London, as well asserting a sense of pride among those who consider themselves Cockney or admire the Cockney slang and culture.
Yet, an inferiority complex holds back asserting Cockney in the new linguistic melting pot: it’s not saying the old has got to be preserved. Rather, the old can evolve, survive, and flourish if promoted in a new dynamic context.
Any new hybrid 21st century London language would be better, stronger rooted, by having some Cockney DNA in it. Hence, the need for a ‘Speak Cockney Day’ on March 3rd.
The Vision for the ‘Cockney Manifesto’ and Speak Cockney Day
The ‘Cockney Manifesto’ and ‘Speak Cockney Day’ on March 3rd – the ‘fird of the ‘fird – provide a focal point for both celebrating and investing in the future survival of ‘Cockney’.
It’s not about nostalgia, a backward-looking reminisce but rather a positive statement about helping Cockney culture to adapt, grow, and flourish in a new era.
It’s about connecting everyone – celebrities, cockneys, non-cockneys – all who care about our London pride and do your bit keep the Cockney spirit alive, and where possible, help good causes.
It’s a chance to find out more about your Cockney Culture, its rhyming slang, expressions, history, traditions and culture. Celebrate your favourite Cockney heroes, TV shows, films and bands, to enjoy what you think is your London culture so you can help preserve its qualities for future generations.
The day provides a great opportunity to keep the flame of the Cockney spirit alive.
Grow Social Capital is now working to establish a community of changemakers to be the driving force to establish Speak Cockney Day and for anyone interested in doing something to help.
Please do get in touch with Andy Green at Grow Social Capital I you are interested in getting involved at email@example.com.
Why March 3rd for Speak Cockney Day?
For ‘Speak Cockney Day’ to survive and flourish it needs a memorable date. Something easily remembered, can be passed on, as well a date that somehow also conveys something of the Cockney spirit
March 3rd – or ‘fird of the ‘fird’, with its hint of self-deprecation, seems to fit the bill.
How did Speak Cockney Day come about?
Campaign founder Andy Green was born in the old East End Maternity Hospital, Stepney and grew up in Poplar. A proud East Ender although now a real-life BBC TV’s ‘Gavin and Stacey’ where he lives on Barry Island with his Barry-born wife, as a friend once observed: “You can take Andy out of the East End, but you can’t take the East End out of Andy.”
Now a director of a new social enterprise, Grow Social Capital, that works tackle the challenges created by changing levels of Social Capital in society. Andy has a passion for London culture and creativity, even writing a book that combines the two passions, ‘Tubespiration – how to get your next brilliant idea on the London Underground’.
His claim to fame is once hitting a cricket ball under the River Thames (He was playing cricket on a grass next to Blackwall Tunnel when he hit a ball for six that then rolled into the Tunnel).
He still remembers, with some angst, the times being hauled up in front of his junior school classmates at Susan Lawrence School Poplar and being yelled at by his teacher when he shouted out his number ‘33’ at class registration: “Green! It’s Thhirty-Thhreeee”. Needless, to say her efforts were wasted, and in hindsight, profoundly wrong in Andy’s view, in seeking to impose her cultural values on another. Regardless, he can now smile about it, and today even celebrate it.
Professor Paul Kerswill, of the University of York, works in sociolinguistics, specifically language variation and change. His research is largely focused on dialect contact – the long-term linguistic consequences that ensue when speakers of different accents or dialects come together through migration and mobility.
Dr. Christopher Strelluf, is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Warwick University Christopher. A sociolinguist, his research focusses on describing English dialects. He has written for the University of Warwick Knowledge Centre about the spread of features of Cockney throughout England.