Estuary English
Estuary English is a dialect of English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 widely spoken in South East England
South East England
South East England is one of the nine official regions of England, designated in 1994 and adopted for statistical purposes in 1999. It consists of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey and West Sussex...

, especially along the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 and its estuary
Thames Estuary
The Thames Mouth is the estuary in which the River Thames meets the waters of the North Sea.It is not easy to define the limits of the estuary, although physically the head of Sea Reach, near Canvey Island on the Essex shore is probably the western boundary...

. Phonetician John C. Wells
John C. Wells
John Christopher Wells is a British phonetician and Esperanto teacher. Wells is a professor emeritus at University College London, where until his retirement in 2006 he held the departmental chair in phonetics....

 defines Estuary English as "Standard English spoken with the accent of the southeast of England". The name comes from the area around the Thames, particularly London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, north Surrey
Surrey is a county in the South East of England and is one of the Home Counties. The county borders Greater London, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. The historic county town is Guildford. Surrey County Council sits at Kingston upon Thames, although this has been part of...

 and south Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...


The variety first came to public prominence in an article by David Rosewarne in the Times Educational Supplement
Times Educational Supplement
The Times Educational Supplement is a weekly UK publication aimed primarily at school teachers in the UK. It was first published in 1910 as a pull-out supplement in The Times newspaper. Such was its popularity that in 1914, the supplement became a separate publication selling for 1 penny.The TES...

in October 1984. Rosewarne argued that it may eventually replace RP
Received Pronunciation
Received Pronunciation , also called the Queen's English, Oxford English or BBC English, is the accent of Standard English in England, with a relationship to regional accents similar to the relationship in other European languages between their standard varieties and their regional forms...

 (Received Pronunciation) in the south-east. Studies have indicated that Estuary English is not a single coherent form of English; rather, the reality behind the construct consists of some (but not all) phonetic features of working-class London speech spreading at various rates socially into middle-class speech and geographically into other accents of south-eastern England.


Estuary English is characterised by the following features:
  • Non-rhoticity
    Rhotic and non-rhotic accents
    English pronunciation can be divided into two main accent groups: a rhotic speaker pronounces a rhotic consonant in words like hard; a non-rhotic speaker does not...

  • Use of intrusive R: pronouncing an "r" sound when no r is present to prevent consecutive vowel sounds
  • A broad A (ɑː) in words such as bath, grass, laugh, etc.
  • T glottalization: realising non-initial, most commonly final, /t/ as a glottal stop
    Glottal stop
    The glottal stop, or more fully, the voiceless glottal plosive, is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. In English, the feature is represented, for example, by the hyphen in uh-oh! and by the apostrophe or [[ʻokina]] in Hawaii among those using a preservative pronunciation of...

     instead of an alveolar stop, e.g. water .
  • Yod coalescence, i.e., the use of the affricates [dʒ] and [tʃ] instead of the clusters [dj] and [tj] in words like dune and Tuesday. Thus, these words sound like June and choose day, respectively.
  • L vocalization, i.e., the use of [o], [ʊ], or [ɯ] where RP uses [ɫ] in the final positions or in a final consonant cluster.
  • The wholly–holy split.
  • Use of confrontational question tags. For example, "It is absurd. Isn't it?" "I said that, didn't I?"

Despite the similarity between the two dialects, the following characteristics of Cockney
The term Cockney has both geographical and linguistic associations. Geographically and culturally, it often refers to working class Londoners, particularly those in the East End...

 pronunciation are generally not considered to be present in Estuary English:
  • H dropping, i.e., Dropping [h] in stressed words (e.g. [æʔ] for hat)
  • Double negation
    Double negative
    A double negative occurs when two forms of negation are used in the same sentence. Multiple negation is the more general term referring to the occurrence of more than one negative in a clause....

    . However, Estuary English may use never in cases where not would be standard. For example, "he did not" [in reference to a single occasion] might become "he never did".
  • Replacement of [ɹ] with [ʋ
    R-labialization is a process occurring in certain dialects of the English language, particularly Cockney, in which the phoneme is realized as a labiodental approximant in contrast to an alveolar approximant...

    ] is not found in Estuary, and is also very much in decline amongst Cockney speakers.

However, the boundary between Estuary English and Cockney is far from clear-cut, hence even these features of Cockney might occur occasionally in Estuary English.

In particular, it has been suggested that th fronting is "currently making its way" into Estuary English, for example those from Isle of Thanet
Isle of Thanet
The Isle of Thanet lies at the most easterly point of Kent, England. While in the past it was separated from the mainland by the nearly -wide River Wantsum, it is no longer an island ....

 often refer to Thanet as "Plannit Fannit" (Planet Thanet).


Estuary English is widely encountered throughout the south and south-east of England, particularly among the young. Many consider it to be a working-class accent, though it is by no means limited to the working class. In the debate that surrounded a 1993 article about Estuary English, a London businessman claimed that Received Pronunciation
Received Pronunciation
Received Pronunciation , also called the Queen's English, Oxford English or BBC English, is the accent of Standard English in England, with a relationship to regional accents similar to the relationship in other European languages between their standard varieties and their regional forms...

 was perceived as unfriendly, so Estuary English was now preferred for commercial purposes.

Some people adopt the accent as a means of "blending in", appearing to be more working class, or in an attempt to appear to be "a common man" sometimes this affectation of the accent is derisively referred to as "Mockney
Mockney is an affected accent and form of speech in imitation of Cockney or working class London speech, or a person with such an accent...

". A move away from traditional RP accents is almost universal among middle class young people.

Conversely, Estuary English and the stronger London Accent are also seen in negative terms as unfriendly and portraying an unsympathetic urban manner. Many people in rural areas associate those accents with London and consider Londoners as the ultimate "townies" and as people sometimes with arrogant and inconsiderate attitudes and urban values, such as driving too fast in the country, being inconsiderate and impatient of slow moving traffic such as tractors, elderly drivers, cyclists and horse-riders in country lanes. As a result, there is a tendency for people who would often speak with a London or Londonised accent to moderate or drop their urban accent to approximate with RP or rural accents in order to blend in with the "rural man" or the "respectable man" and even with the "posh man" .

The perception of appropriateness of "blending in" from RP: General/BBC or posh English or rural accents to London accents, or conversely, from London accents to rural or RP: General/BBC or posh accents is based on geography, location and the company they keep. Amongst their young friends, many young folk will speak in Estuary English and then with older colleagues and managers or in a posh neighbourhood or with "aunty", they will speak in RP or rural accents.

The term "Estuary English" is sometimes used with pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

A connotation is a commonly understood subjective cultural or emotional association that some word or phrase carries, in addition to the word's or phrase's explicit or literal meaning, which is its denotation....

s: Sally Gunnell
Sally Gunnell
Sally Jane Janet Gunnell OBE is a former British Olympic champion in the 400 m hurdles...

, a former Olympic athlete who became a television presenter for Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

 and the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

, quit the BBC, announcing she felt "very undermined" by the network's lack of support after she was widely criticised for her "uninspiring interview style" and "awful estuary English".

London accent

The term "Estuary English" can also be considered a milder (closer to R.P.) variety of the "'London Accent". The spread of the London Accent extends many miles outside London and all of the neighbouring home counties surrounding London have residents who moved from London and took their London Accent with them. The London Accent or its Londonised milder variant, called “Estuary English”, can be heard in all of the New Town
New towns in the United Kingdom
Below is a list of some of the new towns in the United Kingdom created under the various New Town Acts of the 20th century. Some earlier towns were developed as Garden Cities or overspill estates early in the twentieth century. The New Towns proper were planned to disperse population following the...

s, coastal resorts, and larger regional cities within 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 km) of London in southern England.

See also

  • Kentish dialect
    Kentish dialect
    The Kentish dialect combines many features of other speech patterns, particularly those of East Anglia, The Southern Counties and London. Although there are audio examples available on the British Library website and BBC sources, its most distinctive features are in the lexicon rather than in...

  • List of dialects of the English language
  • Regional accents of English speakers
    Regional accents of English speakers
    The regional accents of English speakers show great variation across the areas where English is spoken as a first language. This article provides an overview of the many identifiable variations in pronunciation, usually deriving from the phoneme inventory of the local dialect, of the local variety...

  • Sussex dialect
    Sussex dialect
    The Sussex dialect is a dialect that was once widely spoken by those living in the historic county of Sussex in southern England. Much of the distinctive vocabulary of Sussex dialect has now died out...

External links

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