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Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK


Estuary English: Nuffin wrong wiv it?



Forget a double first at Oxford. Forget the old school tie. There's one thing you can have which nowadays seems to make any CV irresistible.

Estuary English.

E-cyclopedia
Job adverts are unlikely to say that the successful candidate will need to "like, y'know, talk so vat uvver people can understand vem".

But those who speak it - whether their accents are mild, medium or strong - are undoubtedly seeing their stars rising. And those who adopt the accent as an affectation to get street cred have even got their own nickname - mockneys.

The high priestess of Estuary English is Janet Street-Porter, whose unabashed accent has made an indelible impression on the viewing public.


[ image: Janet Street-Porter, the new IoS editor]
Janet Street-Porter, the new IoS editor
She has just taken over as editor of the Independent on Sunday. Street-Porter is the woman who brought "yoof" TV to UK viewers - a name which itself nods towards the influence of the estuary.

And she is by no means alone. Greg Dyke was last month appointed as the next director general of the BBC.


The sound of England - three tastes of Estuary English
Nasser Hussain is probably still celebrating winning his maiden Test match as captain of the England cricket team.

And it all comes after Jamie Shea, the Nato spokesman, became famous worldwide for his blokeish straightforward manner.

Estuary English was a term devised in 1984 by linguist David Rosewarne. It refers to the Cockney-influenced accent, which has come to be identified with the Thames estuary - Essex, North Kent, and the capital itself.

In particular it is characterised by a glottal stop, the non-pronunciation of the letter T. (Try saying the word "glottal" in the style of the untutored Eliza Doolittle, and you'll have some idea what it sounds like.) Saying "th" as "f" or "v" can also be a feature.

In the last few months, it has even been blamed for undermining the Scouse accent - having been propagated throughout the rest of the country by the residents of Albert Square.


[ image: Nasser Hussain, the new England cricket captain]
Nasser Hussain, the new England cricket captain
Despite signs that it could well become the lingua franca of English English-speaking people, some people are still very sniffy about it.

For instance, the Daily Telegraph's cricket correspondent, Michael Henderson, had a few harsh words for the new captain when he was appointed.

"Somebody who went to a good university has no excuse for speaking in that ghastly estuary sludge," he wrote. "Verbal imprecision often reveals mental laziness. Be a good chap, skipper, use the letter T. It's not there just to keep S and U company."

One newspaper profile of Jamie Shea said: "It is like meeting someone from a docu-soap."

And a recent book about Street-Porter's brief stint at Live TV characterised her approach as "innervatif", and quoted her as saying things such as "Wasssamatter wiv yer?"


[ image: Jamie Shea:  Mystified by the attention paid to his accent]
Jamie Shea: Mystified by the attention paid to his accent
The Oxford Dictionary of New Words is no exception, saying: "It may now be regarded as fashionable among certain popular comedians, pop and rock musicians, and presenters of television programmes for the young."

But the success of these and other "estuarial" speakers shows that what was once counted as a disadvantage can now even be a bonus. Some experts have said its great advantage is that it seems egalitarian and approachable.

Charles Owen of Birmingham University's english department said it did not matter to him at all that people speaking Estuary English should be appointed to top jobs.

But, he said, some people would argue that if an Estuary English accent disadvantaged someone with a potential employer, they should try to do something about it.

Alternatively, he said, the people speaking it might decide on principle that they would not want to work for someone who wouldn't want to employ them because of their accent.

But he made a prediction.

"In 100 years, the editor of the Daily Telegraph, for example, will be speaking Estuary English or some version of it because by that time everybody will.

"But there will be some new version of English, from Essex or elsewhere, and the editor of that type of newspaper will be complaining about it.

"That has always happened and it will continue to happen. Wise people smile and say, 'That's nice'."

The E-cyclopedia can be contacted at e-cyclopedia@bbc.co.uk





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