Everyone’s heard of ‘Cockney’.[ssba] If there is one English accent that everyone has heard of, far more so than either RP or Estuary, it is Cockney. Pronunciation teachers will confirm this – students who have never heard of other regional accents will always recognise Cockney (at least by name).
Characteristics of a cockney accent.
There are a great many phonetic differences between Cockney and RP, some of the most noticeable are:
Cockney would replace voiceless ‘th’ /θ/ in words like ‘think’, ‘theatre’, ‘author’, with /f/, so they would be pronounced /fɪŋk/, /fɪəʔə/, /ɔ:fə/:
/fɪŋk/, /fɪəʔə/, /ɔ:fə/
Similarly, voiced ‘th’ in ‘the’, ‘this’, and ‘Northern’, would be pronounced /v/, so /və/, /vɪs/ and /nɔ:vən/:
/və/, /vɪs/, /nɔ:vən/
2. Glottal Stops /ʔ/
Cockney speakers will use glottal stops to replace /t/ before consonants and weak vowels:
water /wɔ:ʔə/, cottage /kɒʔɪdʒ/
It is also common for a glottal stop to replace a /k/ before a consonant:
3. /æ/ replaced with /e/
Any word producing the front open /æ/ vowel would be pronounced with mid-open /e/ instead:
blackboard, bat, that
4. ‘h’ dropping
In cockney, you don’t pronounce /h/ at all. So ‘horrible’ is /ɒrɪbəw/, ‘hospital’ is /ɒspɪʔəw/, ‘who’ is /uː/ and ‘help’ is /ewp/.
horrible /ɒrɪbəw/, hospital /ɒspɪʔəw/, who /uː/, help /ewp/
Who speaks Cockney?
Traditionally a cockney speaker was born within the sound of the ‘Bow Bells’ (St Mary Le Bow Church), the accent is associated with East London – particularly the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets. This is not really the case any more, with large parts of modern East London inhabited by Asian communities who speak ‘Multicultural London English‘, many of the cockney speaking communities have reportedly moved further East into Essex.
Cockney rhyming slang.
A highly distinctive feature of cockney, is its use of rhyming words to communicate meanings. Some examples are below:
Would you Adam and Eve it? (believe)We had a bull and cow last night. (row)He’s on the dog and bone. (phone)
Influence on other accents.
Estuary English is somewhere between Received Pronunciation and Cockney phonetically, although it does not incorporate the slang elements of cockney.
To hear the difference between Estuary and Cockney, watch this interview between Jonathon Ross (Estuary) and actor Ray Winstone (Cockney):
This article uses IPA (phonetic) symbols – you can learn them in the free Pronunciation Studio Starter Pack containing pronunciation notes and diagrams for each sound with audio, and an English IPA chart.