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 Tempting the taste buds


























No Pigeon: Black English in Brixton

It's a dialect determined not by geography or profession, but by age, fashion and aspiration. Pulsing through music culture, spread by television and radio, it can be found throughout the UK. Sometimes subversive, often secretive, it is arguably the most vibrant and dynamic form of spoken English in Britain today - the talk, essentially, of the young black population.

Melvyn Bragg visits Railton Road in Brixton to find the heart of the black linguistic culture that is today so fashionable yet whose past is so tangled with the painful history of black and white relations, from slavery and colonisation to the racism which greeted the immigrants who first came to Britain aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948.

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Caribbean English sprang up in the racial, linguistic and economic crossroads of the West Indies' slave colonies. Here, comprehension was a matter of life and death, as Jim Walvin, Professor of History at York University, explains. audio clip

Cut-Eyes and Hard-Ears

Linton Kwezi Johnson is the undisputed father of Dub poetry. Born in Jamaica in 1952, the man known simply as 'The Poet' moved to Brixton aged 11. Unsurprisingly, he has an acute awareness of speech and sound, as Melvyn discovered when they met in the Hamilton Arms, Brixton. audio clip

No Scrubs

Long before the Empire Windrush dropped anchor, traces of Caribbean could be heard in London English. Tony Thorne, Head of the Language Centre at King's College, London, describes the long and complex history of linguistic exchange between England and the West Indies from 18th Century cartoons to present day slang. audio clip

For the first generations of Black Britons the language, music and religion of 1950s Britain could not, would not reflect their experiences. Linton Kwezi Johnson explains how he and his contemporaries adapted Creole to their new environment. audio clip

Reggae Sounds

Like language, music became an important source of identity for Britain's Afro-Caribbean community. Reggae and calypso can both be heard in the poems of Linton Kwezi Johnson, as Ian d'Effenthaler, an expert on his work, describes. audio clip

Scrub and Crub

If Linton Kwezi Johnson was among the first generations to Jamaicanise English, it is his grandchildren who are now keepers of the language, and in whose hands the Londonisation of Creole is taking place. audio clip


Jade and Vanessa from Lambeth's Lilian Bayliss School display a genuine delight in the spoken word, switching between their own secretive slang words and the language of their parents. audio clip

Wiggers and Ruffnecks

Initially perceived as a 'substandard' form of English by the white community, Black English is, for today's young people, the most credible form of spoken English, imitated and adopted by white and asian young people across the country. Tony Thorne explains. audio clip


Today Black English is arguably the most innovative and dynamic form of spoken English, according to Tony Thorne. audio clip


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