Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How patois merked cockney

Word! Here's something I wrote for a C4 website on the kids and ting. Thought I'd share.

Once upon a time, the default playground accent for kids in the south of the country was cockney. You wanted a shorthand for cool? Just drop a few ‘H’s. Right now, it’s all about sounding gangsta, blud. Kids all over the country are adapting their natural voices for the elongated drawl of a perceived ghetto. ‘Oh my god!’ has been usurped by ‘oh my days!’, itself a term used by Christian families in south London who preferred their young not to blaspheme.

Previously strictly rude terms like blud have become common currency. Eight-year-olds in suburban primary schools have been heard throwing around phrases like wasteman (abbreviated to ‘wace’ by older users) instead of looser, proof that the linguistic grapevine between rude and the youth is just as strong as it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s between a mythical East End and the rest of the south.

The north of England is not immune, although with strong regional accents of their own, are less likely to start sounding like a Bow-born grime MC once they’re ten foot away from their parents. Ali G still bears some responsibility – after all, it was he who made it acceptable to mimic another’s accent without fear of being labelled racist. But it’s more to do with aspirations – the desire for something at the edge of society; a space once filled by cockney geezer gangsters and now epitomised by Britain’s rude bwoys.

In truth, it’s the middle-classes who tend to take patois to the greatest extreme, falling prey to the downwards mobility and class-denial endemic in their social strata. Whilst everyone – well, almost everyone – can shift their accent to fit youth culture’s fixation with rude, only a certain type of private school privilage will allow the phrase ‘yes blud, I got to Westminstaaaaaah, innit’.

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