« Previous | Main | Next »

English is alive!

Post categories:

Neil Edgeller Neil Edgeller | 09:30 UK time, Thursday, 29 September 2011

Well Graciela, first of all I'd like to congratulate you on your deciphering of the word 'Howzat?!' I like the mental image of you at a cricket match with a face 'like Mona Lisa'. To me cricket is an art form, so actually this is quite appropriate.

I feel for you, Graciela, when you say you are lost when you hear young Londoners speaking. But don't worry: you're not alone. Even as a native-speaker of English I find it impossible to follow what's called Multicultural London English, or MLE. What's MLE? It's defined in a recent BBC article as:

"A dialect identified among young people in the capital which blends the phonetics and vocabulary of such diverse influences as West Indian, south Asian and traditional cockney."

Pearly Kings and Queens in the 1940s

Would these cockneys from the 1940s understand today's young Londoners?

I used to think it was bad that I couldn't make head nor tail of my fellow Londoners' English. But now I've realised a simple fact - I'm not supposed to understand it. That's the point. Speaking using this special dialect gives them a sense of group identity. And because I'm too old in their eyes, I'm not part of the club.

Language is a living thing, not a museum piece. Shakespeare is said to have added over 2000 words to the English language. Do we criticise him for not sticking to the rules? Of course not; we celebrate his creativity. Therefore, I am proud of the inventors and speakers of MLE.

So here is a challenge for Graciela and other followers of this blog. Here are some words in MLE. Can you match the word on the left (a-e) with the correct definition on the right (1-5)? I'll let you know the answer next time. Good luck!

a) blud - 1) trainers (sports shoes)
b) chops - 2) friend
c) creps - 3) boring
d) long - 4) often
e) regs - 5) jewellery


deciphering - trying to understand something which is confusing
mental image - a picture in your head
feel for you - have sympathy for you
phonetics - the study of the sounds of language
couldn't make head nor tail - couldn't understand at all
a museum piece - something very old


  • Comment number 1.

    You are exactly right, Niel. It's what I always say to my friends that language is a living thing.I found your quiz so challenging. I can just guess the answers( and all surly will be false) :
    creps= often
    long= boring
    blud = friend
    chops= trainers
    regs= jewellery

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks for this introduction, Neil! At least, I feel reassured now that it will be totally okay to blunder on that assignment. So, here I go, trying to find SOME justification for each decision:
    "long" should indeed be equivalent to "boring" - at least there are some common connotations in those two.
    "regs" reminds me of the word "regularly" or "regulars" - so I'm a little undecided between "often" and "friend" - I'll go for "often".
    "blud" looks a little too similar to "bud", so I think it won't be "friend" but "jewellery" (thinking of piercings and thinking of blood, of course)
    "chops" could be trainers in my view because working out might make one feel as if one had been chopped up.
    I'm running out of obvious singulars now: For the term "friend" all that's left is "creps" - but as "crepuscular" means something like "active in the dark", it might just be the appropriate word.
    Okay, that may all be wrong and totally futile reasoning. But at least, it was fun!
    All the best,
    Elisabeth (Austria)

  • Comment number 3.

    Neil, here are my guesses
    Phew it was hard

  • Comment number 4.

    Thank you for this post. I'm a teacher of English and I got traditional teacher-training education based on neutral, standard English. I've never been to Britain (although I'm planning to visit it at some point in the future), but I like talking to English speakers whenever I can. And since my students are looking for ways of practical usage of their English, I have to prepare them for real everyday talks. The question is, should I pick up these new MLE words to keep my and my students' English updated? Or should I rather stay more traditional and careful with the use of the language?
    Catherine (Russia).

  • Comment number 5.

    Thank you Neil for posting more details on MLE. I agreed that sometimes it is very hard to follow the native people due to their special dialect. English is my second language and i have recently started to put more effort on improving my english skills. however, i live in Australia and it is a multicultural country. As you mentioned, sometimes you find it difficult to follow other native people becuase of their special dialect, though, you are a native english speaker. Thus, you might imagine our difficulties to follow native people while they use special dialect.
    Unfortunately, i have no clues of your challenges that you threw to us at the end of your blogs. I was reading other people comments and it still seems to me puzzling.
    I hope you will give us answer and a little details why the meanings is similar like that.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thank you Neil for useful vocabulary :-) and MLE. I'm trying to guess right the words' accordance and have no idea I have done correct or not, because my notion about MLE is very restrict and obscure.

    a) blud - 3)boring
    b) chops - 2)friends
    c) creps - 5) jewellery
    d) long - 4)often
    e) regs - 1) trainers


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.