Whilst this joke is so old that it isn’t at all relative anymore, the idea that the English language might subtly adopt changes until it looks like something entirely different isn’t a new one. Linguists and us regular folk have been bemoaning the encroachment of lols into our everyday language for just about as long as people have been, um, lolling. And when was the last time you looked up something on the internet, instead of Googling it?
A recent study by the University of York has suggested a replacement of Already Estuary English (hybrid of Cockney and received pronunciation/RP) with Multicultural London English (MLE) on its streets as testament to the multicultural society that is the true reflection of London today.
Here are some of the changes that have been predicted for the homogenization of English: do we think this is something to look forward to or something to fear?
But wait! We hear (some of) you cry, emojis are pictorial representations of emotions that have no place in the business of speaking. Well if that’s true, how have expressions like **happy face** and **winky face** become not only written communication in place of actual emojis at times, and also in everyday speech?
Glottal stop gone
Ah yes, the glottal stop, that thing that distinguishes an educated fellow from the common one on the street. Or if we are more realistic, which county you probably reside in. Butter said by someone from London, Leeds, Liverpool, or any other city beginning with L (or other letters) and you will hear an entirely different word. Especially for those with Cockney and Geordie accents who forego the tt altogether and pronounce the word more like but–her. Pretty soon, at least within the next fifty years according to the University of York’s study, the t-glottalization is going to be one of the big changes we should come to expect.
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Spare a thought for the English language learner wandering around the minefield that is the language of the UK. Because if you are working on your pronunciation, depending on where you are in the country your cheese could be pronounced more like jeez and someone asking for directions might ask where something is but sound more like they are saying rare. A minefield indeed, since these ‘new’ words mean entirely different things. But in the future if w becomes more like r and ch becomes more like j, does this mean we are simplifying things or just creating even more homonyms?
Dropping a yod dropping
There are some people out there that already bastardize words including the yod, making beautiful sound anything but (bee-yoo-ti-full) and tune far from tuneful (tee-oon). But going to the other extreme, linguists predict the yod sound might be dropped altogether with words cute sounding more like k-oot and beauty more like booty. It is very difficult to decide which fate is worse.
Thankfully it is a rare thing these days to hear the word suit pronounced syoot. But many words beginning with s used to have a much harder intonation; this has slowly been softening over the past fifty years or so, and in the next fifty will become softer still, with sharp corners being knocked off of words until the whole language sounds a lot more fluid. Is that a good thing?
So called dental consonants like th are already for some replaced with a d sound, so that this and that come out more like dis and dat. This change can be attributed to the influence of Caribbean, West African, and Asian Communities, the latter in particular contributing because of difficulties producing the th stopping sound.
The final prediction for change is the one we have seen on the rise since long before mockney was a thing. It’s true: celebrities and genuine Cockneys alike already change the th sound to an f, making thin become fin and think change to fink. But before you go blaming Jamie Oliver for this as well as everything else you blame the poor man for, this change has been with us for decades.
Cockney, a dialect to be found in places like Poplar, Millwall, and Stepney, is thought to owe its adaptation of th fronting to cigarettes of all things. Back when it was more common to roll your own, the filters were often held between the lips whilst the cigarette itself was rolled, and saying think would spit that filter right back out, whilst fink would keep it firmly in place. An interesting theory!
So. These are the changes we are to expect, and many of them are already in progress. What do you think, is this a change for the better or should we put the verbal breaks on this denigration of the Queen’s English?