Estuary English

Estuary English is an English dialect or accent associated with South East England, especially the area along the River Thames and its estuary, centring around London. Phonetician John C. Wells proposed a definition of Estuary English as "Standard English spoken with the accent of the south-east of England", although he criticised the notion that the spread of language from London to the south-east was anything new.[1] The name comes from the area around the Thames, particularly its Estuary. Estuary English can be heard from some people in London, north Surrey,[2] north Kent, south Hertfordshire and Essex. Estuary English shares many features with Cockney, and there is some debate among linguists as to where Cockney speech ends and Estuary English begins.

The variety first came to public prominence in an article by David Rosewarne in the Times Educational Supplement in October 1984.[3] Rosewarne argued that it may eventually replace Received Pronunciation in the south-east. Studies have indicated that Estuary English is not a single coherent form of English; rather, it consists of some (but not all) phonetic features of working-class London speech spreading at various rates socially into middle-class speech and geographically into other accents of south-eastern England.[4]


The scholar Alan Cruttenden uses the term London Regional General British[5][6] in preference to the popular term 'Estuary English'.

The names listed above may be abbreviated:

Some authors[8] use different names for EE closer to Cockney (Popular London) and EE closer to Received Pronunciation (London Regional Standard or South-Eastern Regional Standard).[9]

Note that some other authors[10] use the name Popular London to refer to Cockney itself.[11]

Status of Estuary English as an accent of English

The boundary between Estuary English and Cockney is far from clear-cut.[12][13] Several writers have argued that Estuary English is not a discrete accent distinct from the accents of the London area. The sociolinguist Peter Trudgill has written that the name is inappropriate because "it suggests that we are talking about a new variety, which we are not; and because it suggests that it is a variety of English confined to the banks of the Thames estuary, which it is not. The label actually refers to the lower middle-class accents, as opposed to working-class accents, of the Home Counties Modern Dialect area".[14] Peter Roach comments that "In reality there is no such accent and the term should be used with care. The idea originates from the sociolinguistic observation that some people in public life who would previously have been expected to speak with an RP accent now find it acceptable to speak with some characteristics of the London area ... such as glottal stops, which would in earlier times have caused comment or disapproval".[15] Foulkes & Docherty (1999) state "All of its [EE's] features can be located on a sociolinguistic and geographical continuum between RP and Cockney, and are spreading not because Estuary English is a coherent and identifiable influence, but because the features represent neither the standard nor the extreme non-standard poles of the continuum".[16]


Speech example
An example of a Berkshire male with a working-class Estuary accent (entertainer Ricky Gervais)

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Speech example
An example of an Essex male with a working-class Estuary accent (entertainer Russell Brand)

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Estuary English is characterised by the following features:

A possible realization of Estuary /əʊ/ on a vowel chart, from Lodge (2009:175)

Despite the similarity between the two dialects, the following characteristics of Cockney pronunciation are generally not considered to be present in Estuary English:


Estuary English is widely encountered throughout the south and south-east of England, particularly among the young. Many consider it to be a working-class accent, although it is often espoused by lower middle classes too. In the debate that surrounded a 1993 article about Estuary English, a London businessman claimed that Received Pronunciation was perceived as unfriendly, so Estuary English was now preferred for commercial purposes.[34]

Some people adopt the accent as a means of "blending in", appearing to be more working class, or in an attempt to appear to be "a common man"  sometimes this affectation of the accent is derisively referred to as "Mockney". A move away from traditional RP accents is almost universal among middle class young people.[35]

The term "Estuary English" is sometimes used with pejorative connotations: Sally Gunnell, a former Olympic athlete who became a television presenter for Channel 4 and the BBC, quit the BBC, announcing she felt "very undermined" by the network's lack of support after she was widely criticised for her "uninspiring interview style" and "awful estuary English".[36]

See also


  1. "Estuary English Q and A - JCW". Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  2. Joanna Ryfa (2003). "Estuary English - A controversial Issue?" (PDF). Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  3. "Rosewarne, David (1984). ''Estuary English''. Times Educational Supplement, 19 (October 1984)". 1999-05-21. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  4. A handout by John C. Wells, one of the first to write a serious description of the would-be variety. Also summarised by him here .
  5. Gimson (2014:81–82)
  6. 1 2 "Phonetics at Oxford University". Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  7. 1 2 Gimson (2014:82)
  8. Such as Wells (1982)
  9. Wells (1982:302–303)
  10. Such as Gimson (2014)
  11. Gimson (2014:89)
  12. Maidment, J. A. (1994). "Estuary English: Hybrid or Hype?". Paper presented at the 4th New Zealand Conference on Language & Society, Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand, August 1994. University College London. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
  13. Haenni, Ruedi (1999). "The case of Estuary English: supposed evidence and a perceptual approach" (PDF). University of Basel dissertation. University College London. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
  14. Trudgill (1999:80)
  15. Roach, Peter (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology. Cambridge. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-521-71740-3.
  16. Foulkes & Docherty (1999:11)
  17. Estuary English: A Controversial Issue? by Joanna Ryfa, from
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 Parsons (1998:39)
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Przedlacka (2001:43)
  20. 1 2 Ashby (2011)
  21. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:193)
  22. 1 2 Przedlacka (2001:45)
  23. 1 2 Bauer et al. (2007:101)
  24. Altendorf (1999)
  25. Przedlacka (2001:42)
  26. Przedlacka (2001:43–44)
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Wells (1994)
  28. Lodge (2009:174)
  29. Altendorf & Watt (2004:188 and 191–192)
  30. Altendorf & Watt (2004:188). They list [a], [a̝] and [æ].
  31. Altendorf & Watt (2004:188)
  32. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Przedlacka (2001:44)
  33. Lodge (2009:175)
  34. Crystal (2003:327)
  35. Crystal, David. "RP and its successors". BBC. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  36. Jo Knowsley (15 January 2006). "BBC undermined me so I quit, says Gunnell". The Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 2009-04-21.


Further reading

External links

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