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Lecture | Sociolinguistics series

The Recontextualisation of a Multiethnolect: The Case of Multicultural London English

Friday 18 November 2022
LUCL Sociolinguistics Series 2022/2023
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Over the past fifteen or so years, sociolinguistic research has documented the emergence and subsequent spread of a new variety of English spoken in the United Kingdom – what has been termed ‘Multicultural London English’ (MLE; Cheshire et al. 2008, 2011) or ‘Multicultural British English’ (MBE; Drummond, 2018). Earlier research largely demonstrated that MLE was spoken by young, working-class, individuals living in inner-city neighbourhoods in London. The lack of ethnic differentiation in the use of MLE led researchers to conclude that it could be considered a ‘multiethnolect’, insofar that both Black and White speakers from different ethnic backgrounds used the dialect.

More recently, however, media discussions and popular discourses of MLE have tended to describe this variety as a ‘Black vernacular’ (e.g., Hirsch, 2018:7). Likewise, some recent work has demonstrated that speakers tend to describe MLE as a Black British style (e.g., Walcott, 2022), whilst other research has found distinct patterns of ethnic differentiation in the use of MLE (Gates, 2018).

In this talk, I consider the degree to which MLE can truly be considered a multiethnolect. I first trace the historical development of this dialect with reference to Black cultural innovations such as Grime music. From here, I go on to present a recent project which explores the ‘recontextualisation’ (Bauman and Briggs, 1990) of MLE in parody videos of a racialized identity which is associated with the dialect. Specifically, I focus on parody performances of the ‘Roadman’ in a corpus of 500 videos extracted from the social media platform, TikTok. I analyse the ways in which linguistic features typically found in MLE (e.g., pronominal man, discourse-pragmatic styll, fronted /u:/) are co-opted and stylised in these videos. I demonstrate that these features co-occur with tropes of personhood (e.g., participation in Grime music, overt heterosexuality, a streetwear aesthetic) that reference problematic imaginings of Black masculinity. Concluding, I reflect on the Roadman ‘characterological figure’ (Agha, 2003) with reference to contemporary patterns of (youth) language in the UK.

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