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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

Villains and Tea Leafs: Redefining Cockney & Defying Stereotypes

A new report from the University of Warwick, in collaboration with Cockney Cultures, is shaking up perceptions of East End culture and calling for its celebration as a powerful tool against social prejudice.


The report highlights the rich heritage and resilience of Cockney culture, aiming to challenge stereotypes and foster community unity across London.


Cockney

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Cockney isn't just about rhyming slang and on-screen villains. It's a vibrant, evolving culture that has thrived amidst changing times. From the traditional 'Old School Cockney' to the innovative 'New School Cockney,' the community continues to adapt and flourish.


Dr Chris Strelluf, Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Warwick, emphasises the report's broader implications: "Many studies have highlighted injustices perpetuated against people who speak non-standard English varieties like Cockney. Our report aims to empower individuals and communities, reduce language prejudice, and increase upward social mobility.

 

“Although the focus of the report is Cockney, it is relevant to all ‘non-standard’ Englishes that invoke social prejudice and discrimination. Any evaluation of a language variety as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’, ‘smart’ or ‘stupid’ is a social judgement, not grounded in linguistic science.”The study also debunks myths around Cockney rhyming slang being born out of criminal activity, emphasising its example as a creative and playful use of language emerging from working-class communities. It also highlights how Cockney has historically thrived on multicultural influences, adapting with each wave of newcomers.


Clive Bennett, Pearly King of Wollwich, said: “Heritage is close to my heart, but it’s also important for future generations to both know and grow our shared culture for their children’s children. Respecting your Cockney heritage sets you up for life to be more resilient, resourceful, and to look on the bright side when the going gets tough.”


Using linguistics - the science of human language - the sociolinguist experts at the University of Warwick shed light on the impact of language ideologies, revealing how evaluations of language varieties as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are subjective social judgments, not grounded in linguistic science.


The ‘Cockney Formula’, a tool developed by Cockney Cultures, reveals how Cockney’s complex character is explained and understood through 26 different variables, although the report includes a simpler, yet insightful definition of Cockney provided by comedian Arthur Smith, as being the ‘non-posh Londoner’.  


Cockney Cultures reports how Cockney now manifests itself in three different ways:

  • ‘Old School Cockney’ through a well-established stereotype, associated with a traditional geographical area of London, typecasted in popular culture by a fossilised family of tropes.

  • ‘Cockney Diaspora’, extending the Cockney cultural social identity through geography to a wider Cockneydom, and across generations drawing inspiration from your ancestors.

  • ‘New School Cockney’, the latest incarnations of Cockney culture emerging where rich and non-rich collide in London and the wider Cockneydom, the equivalent of a cultural engine, generating a constantly evolving culture, language, and heritage.

 

In an era where social identities are more complex and multilayered, these are now more often defined beyond a single label such as ‘Cockney’ but through incarnations of ‘Cockney Bengali’, ‘Cockney Black’, ‘Cockney British’, ‘Cockney European’, ‘Cockney Indian’, ‘Cockney Jamaican’, ‘Cockney Polish’, ‘Cockney Sylheti’, and many more iterations.


The report's release comes ahead of the Modern Cockney Festival (March 3rd to April 4th), set to celebrate the culture, heritage, and future of 'non-posh Londoners' throughout March. It's a call to action, urging society to protect and nurture linguistic diversity.

 

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