Would you 'Adam and Eve' it? Cockney slang turns Bangladeshi

by AFP, Aug 30, 2005 | Destinations: Bangladesh / Dhaka

LONDON, Aug 22, 2005 - Cor blimey! The traditional Cockney London English is becoming tinged with Bangladeshi twang, according to research for a BBC project.

The working class accent and dialect from the poorer east of the capital, featuring rhyming slang for common words -- with for instance "believe" becoming "Adam and Eve" -- is picking up a Bangladeshi bent among youngsters, researchers told the BBC's Voices series, which begins Monday.

The East End of London, is home to a sizeable Bangladeshi community.

England football captain David Beckham is currently perhaps the world's most popular Cockney, though not the strongest speaker.

The accent was infamously mangled by American actor Dick Van Dyke in the 1964 film "Mary Poppins".

Similar phenomenae are happening with other urban accents as migrants from south Asia and the Middle East bring their own words and sounds to Britain's cities, experts said.

Sue Fox, from the University of London, said a new blend of Cockney and Bangladeshi had emerged. She studied youngsters at a youth club in the East End's Tower Hamlets district.

"The majority of young people of school age are of Bangladeshi origin and this has had tremendous impact on the dialect spoken in the area," she said.

"What I've actually found with the young people in Tower Hamlets is that they are using a variety of English which is not traditionally associated with Cockney English.

"It's a variety that we might say is Bangladeshi-accented. And in turn what I've found is that some adolescents of white British origin are also using these features in their speech as well."

The nine-month study found that while white male Cockneys have picked up words from their Bangladeshi "old china plates" (mates), teenage white girls are not so keen on the "new dicky birds" (words).

Words picked up included "nang" meaning good, "creps" for trainers and "skets" for slippers.

In more traditional Cockney speak, "Gloria Gaynors" and "Jack the Rippers" were more likely to be worn on someone's "plates of meat" (feet).

Dr Laura Wright, senior lecturer in English Language at the University of Cambridge, said Cockney was not so much dying out as moving out.

The disruption of World War II bomb damage and slum clearance hit many East Enders who moved out to suburban new towns, she said.

"Of course when the East-Enders resettled they took their speech with them, and they and their descendants continue to speak in East London dialect with East London accents," Wright said.

Professor David Crystal, a leading international language specialist, said increasing cultural diversification since World War II had affected British speech -- both its slang and its range of accents.

"Accents are a reflection of society and as society changes so accents change," he said.

"For example, in Liverpool as well as the traditional Scouse accent you will hear distinct Caribbean-Scouse, African-Scouse as well as Indian-Scouse accents.

"In Cardiff I've heard a number of accent mixes that weren't previously heard before such as Cardiff-Arabic and Cardiff-Hindi.

"This pattern is repeating itself in many urban communities across the UK, especially where people are keen to develop a strong sense of local identity."

The BBC's Voices is a season of radio and television programmes presenting a snapshot of the ways people speak across Britain.

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