King’s English and Cockney accents are no longer as prevalent among young Britons, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Essex. The research reveals that three new accents – standard southern British English (SSBE), estuary English, and multicultural London English – have emerged as the defining voices among young adults.
Led by Dr Amanda Cole, a linguistics lecturer, the study used computer algorithms to analyse voice samples of 193 adults aged between 19 and 33, predominantly from south-east England and London. The analysis focused on vowel pronunciation, categorising each individual’s accent accordingly.
SSBE emerged as the most common, with 49% of participants speaking in this accent. It is considered a more modern and nuanced form of received pronunciation. Prominent examples include singer Ellie Goulding and possibly Prince Harry.
Estuary English followed, accounting for 26% of the sample. This accent, found primarily in parts of Essex and east London, is a softer variant of Cockney, leaning closer to received pronunciation. Singer Adele is a well-known speaker of estuary English.
Finally, multicultural London English was spoken by 25% of those surveyed. This accent is most commonly found among Asian British or black British young adults, with examples including England footballer Bukayo Saka and rapper Stormzy.
The study showed no evidence of the King’s English or Cockney among the participants. Dr Cole notes that the changing accents may be attributed to increased movement of people and contact between dialects, as well as universal education and the influence of a “standard” way of speaking.
The study also revealed that women were more likely to speak SSBE, the modern counterpart to King’s English. Dr Cole suggested that this could be due to societal pressures, as women are often more chastised for speaking in regional accents than men are.
The study illustrates how accents in Britain are evolving, with dialect levelling becoming more prominent. Dr Cole argues that trying to prevent accents from changing is futile and that the focus should be on combating “accentism”.
As Britain moves further into the 21st century, the changing landscape of accents is likely to continue evolving. The study provides valuable insights into the dynamics of speech patterns among young Britons, highlighting the importance of understanding this linguistic diversity in a culturally complex society.