MultiCultural London English (MLE)
Our goals are authenticity, but more importantly, intelligibility. You must be always understood by the audience. There may be moments when a choice is made that seems less authentic, but always for the purpose of clearer communication.
Rehearse and sing in dialect. Memorize your text in dialect. Revisit sound clips periodically to tap back into the sound/feeling of the dialect. ASK QUESTIONS if you are not sure about anything!
Multicultural London English (MLE) is a sociolect spoken within parts of London where there are dense immigrant populations. Since its recognition as a dialect as early as the 1980s, MLE is no longer a strictly London sound, but has spread through the UK, earning the term Urban British English (UBE) or Urban Vernaculars. The dialect is associated with ‘youth’, fusing sounds and slang found in East End Cockney, Estuary, Afro-Caribbean speakers, and grime music prevalent in the UK; there is also flavors that have significant Middle Eastern languages influence and even some US black ‘street’ language and drill/hip-hop terminology.
It is often misconceived as Jamaican in origin, coming to London with the wave of immigrants from the West Indies after World War II, being inaccurately dubbed ‘Jafaican’. While a lot of the slang comes from Jamaican language, immigrant contributions from Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, Arabic, Turkish, and many more have helped birth the London-based sound. There are over 300 languages spoken in London and many of them influence this multicultural sound.
It has steadily gained prevalence through drill music and the widespread media coverage of the 2011 London Riots following the police shooting of Mark Duggan. While it has been present in the culture since the early 80s, it was not titled MLE until 2006.
- Jaw: loose; tends to be held close together; minimal movement
tip/blade has easy fluid/darting access to back of teeth and gums
body (front/middle) is slightly cupped, easily widening/channeling
body (back) & root are lowered, moderate root retraction, opening space for back vowels
corners less retraction than American dialects
body has easy fluidity, providing rounding frequently
Velum: sits a bit raised -- will easily raise to make more space when sounds are glottalized and formed in the back of the mouth.
Pharynx: holds more muscularity and usage of this region than is typical; sounds originate, live, and move from the pharynx in tandem with the tongue root retraction.
TRY: Imagine you've just taken a bit of something DELICIOUS, but STEAMING PIPING HOT! And you hold it on the middle/back of your tongue and inhale to try and cool it down...
Prosody: Rhythm, Stress, Pitch
The sound of pause/hesitation/thinking (the schwa [ə] in American english) settles lower in the mouth with a slight cupping of the tongue into an 'uhm' [ɐː]
The sound will move quickly from the back of the mouth to the front, and from the front to the back.
THINK: Laban effort of Dab or Punch
There is a tendency for a slightly greater range of pitch play to occur than what we experience in American dialects. It tends to rise up in pitch and then fall back down within phrasing, individual words, even within syllables.
English is a stress timed language, meaning we tend to lengthen the vowel sounds in the stressed syllable. Caribbean dialects bring the syllabic equality of the languages into english, giving them fairly similar length. MLE tends to lean into the Caribbean stress pattern.
There is a lot of emphasis in phrasing that plays with the rapid unraveling of the text into a pause before the word of import or a lilt and lengthening of the word of import to raise it out of the text: tiddle-taddle-tiddle-taddle-baowa
There is a strong adherence to the knocking rhythm of the text - this dialect did evolve rapidly due to music form.
THINK: of a rubber band, being stretched and released, giving us moments of separation and then rapid elision
"were in care as children"
"kinda wanted to almost give something back to them as well"
"in which tougher sentences in and of themselves did anything to reduce crime"
Pronunciation: Key Sound Changes
Consonants — there are a lot of distinct sound changes here that allow for the knocking prosody quality. There is forgiveness in these changes as they often alter a bit due to vowel relationship, syllable placement, and intention of the speech.
non-rhotic (as all London dialects), so no pronunciation of /r/ after a vowel. /r/ sounds that fall at the beginning of words, following a consonant, or in-between 2 vowels are pronounced with less tongue action than American english - think of the tip of the tongue moving towards the back of the top teeth rather than towards the soft palate
(Post-vocalic: BIRD-like woman, I MERKED* that WARM tea, CHIRPSED* HER innit // Initial, consonant, & vowel sandwiched: you've gotta RIGHT the WRONG to make it TRUE and say ya SORRY)
l —> ʊ
/l/ at the beginnings of words or syllables will be lightened. If the sound comes at the end of a word, replace it with the FOOT vowel [ʊ]
(I HOLD that LOVE for LEMONS, STILL // that was on TILT* bruv)
very pronounced, do not drop as is the tendency in Cockney, Estuary, and various other London dialects
(You HAVE to HELP // HOLD up // HE's a HAPPY baby)
n or ŋᵏ
the suffix -ing may shorten to an /n/ as is commonly done in the US. It can also release into a /k/ sound.
(it's been HAPPENING // we'll be SWITCHING KINGS before LONG)
we take the ‘liquid u’ sound found in RP and add in the alveolar plosive/affricatives
(Tuesday = tʃ͡ ʉˌzdeɪ̆ // due = dʒ͡ ʉ // stew = st͡ ʃ͡ ʉ // choong* // two’s*)
t —> ʔ
the /t/ sound occurring in the middle and ends of words can become a glottal stop. Be cautious of leaning into this sound - it should be done quickly and easily
(get me* // Stop being so BAIT* // he BETTER be something more than BUTTERS*)
f or t
the unvoiced /th/ will be moved to the [f] or the dentalized [t] sound. The variance in the change can be done fairly freely.
(EMPATHY // THREE years old // I THOUGHT he was HEALTHY)
v or d
the voiced /th/ at the beginnings of words will become a dentalized /d/ and when in the middle of words it will change to a /v/
(mother = mʌ̈vɐ // father = fɑv̝ ɐ // this = dɪ̪s // that=dæ̪ ʔ // breathe=bɹiˑ̟d, //THEN I'll have my MOTHER // Let's BREATH it in)
Vowels & Diphthongs — sounds generally move more towards the middle. Front vowel sounds become narrower; back vowel sounds become rounder.
Lexical Set Keywords
Description // Additional Words
ɒː or ɔ
the sound gets place a bit higher and slightly rounder in the back of the mouth (THOUGHT)
arms, stop, cough, dog, cost, hot, dark*
Wait, STOP, I'm SORRY // it was always POSSIBLE to think whatever your personal PROBLEM
these lexical sets merge and hold a sound of greater length and less roundedness (PALM)
staff, dance, ask, bark, heart
I had a dream LAST night // I miss DANCING // you never ASKED me // she better act the PART
there is a dropping of the /r/ sound, but the vowel here should be a clear diphthong with movement through both vowel sounds
(hear, beer, weird)
the /o/ diphthong will shorten in the second sound so much that it becomes more pure with some tongue retraction
so, slow, road, told, home, going, tourist, pure
You KNOW what my FURY is like // NObody loves me // I'm not SURE // JOSIE that's immaTURE, innit?
this sound is much more forward in the mouth
student, tune, huge, crew, shoobz*
If I wish YOU happy // I slipped a wire LOOP over it // she'll need the PROOF
this diphthong also become a monophthong in the extreme shortening of the second vowel
cake, steak, day, great, paid)
Aren't you aFRAID you'll FADE aWAY? // I'll MAKE you SAFE
PRICE / MOUTH
the onset of these diphthong moves more centralized/back, taking up less space in the mouth. Like the other diphthongs, the second vowel sound is very short or can be dropped entirely
crying, dry*, write, buy, high, hold tight* // cows, house, loud
Have you TRIED DIALing NINE-NINE-NINE? // no TIME at all // he's most FOUL // you've crossed a BOUNdry
this sound is a bit shallower (DRESS) and can be even a bit more medial than the familiar American sound (SQUARE)
back, tap, hand, cancel
bounce it off a SATellite // don't you think it's SAD // you should HAVE thought of that // I never thought I'd get BACK // if it didn't HAPPEN
the second vowel in this diphthong does not move as high, it becomes a more centralized or shorter sound
(oy, boy, noise, royal)
More Changes — a few unique ending sounds and syllabic emphasis patterns
All words with ending in -ile should be pronounced like the word "file"
(mobile, fertile, futile, tactile)
These ending sounds all become one syllable.
(secretary, dictionary, obligatory, monetary)
The following are a list of words that have specific syllabic emphasis when spoken in RP
(week-END, alu-MIN-ium, tele-VIS-ion, maga-ZINE)
*Slang Words (Sampling)
Merk - attack (physically or verbally), kill, completely intoxicated, to finish off. He got merked! I’m a so merked right now. Yeah I merked off the rest of that drink.
Chirps - chat up, flirt. I’m out on a chirps tonight, still. Yea, I’m chirping her. Chirpsed her init.
Leng - gun, to be killed or attractive, anything positive. Rah watch out he’s packin a leng! That sunset is leng!
She’s a proper leng!
Still - to end a sentence, validate your point. Yea feeling this, still. You get me, still. Yea, still.
On Tilt - on edge, uneasy. that was on tilt bruv!
Choong - good looking. That yet is choong You’re looking choong tonight. I’m linking this choong ting!
Two’s - to share, share equally, to halve something withs someone or next thing, obviously. Two’s me on that fag. Two’s up. Two Two’s now!
Get Me - to understand to agree. You get me? Oii them man are safe, Get me!
Bait - Obvious, to be found out, a sheep (follower). Stop being so Bait! He’s Bait bruh! Man got Baite init.
Butters - ugly, horrible, disgusting. Bruv, that is butters! Your mums cooking is butters! Seriously man, your face is butters.
Dark - out of order, mean, unfair, evil. That was Dark! You’re Dark bruv. That was a dark move.
Shoobz - party, gaterhing, house party. There’s a shoobz tonight. You reaching that Shoobz later? I might have
a shoobz at mine on my birthday.
Dry- boring, bad, not good. Nothing to do run here its Dry. That shoobz was dry. you’re not funny, you’re jokes are dry.
Hold Tight - keep well, take care, respectful way of saying goodbye. Hold tight yea. Hold tight.
From Tony Thorne & Chris Nott’s Slang terms
Play with these sounds! The technical work is important, but don’t let it dictate the sounds you are making. The MLE sound is liquid and flexible. Test it out, push the boundaries, try to find it’s boundaries so you can see how expressive the range of play is. Try to capture the spirit of the sound (by focusing on prosody).
People Just Do Nothing (aspiring DJs mockumentary - Netflix)
Phone Shop (TV series on YouTube)
Educating the East End (documentary on YouTube)
Attack the Block (YouTube rental)**
Black Sheep (YouTube - free)**
Top Boy (Netflix)**
Chewing Gum (Netflix)**
Michaela Coel (actor)
Tom Hardy (actor)
Stefflon Don (musician)
Dizee Rascal (musician)
Amir Khan (boxer)
Sang Woo (model)
Vicky Grout (photographer)
Jacob Collier (musician)
George the Poet
Professor Green (BBC Documentary producer)
Playwrights: Roy Williams, Dennis Kelly, debbie tucker green, Vivienne Franzmann, Noel Clarke,
Paul Kerswill - linguist who has multiple talks/presentations on the dialect (He does not speak in
**These samples are aggressive and dark and would require parental permission to watch.