I was watching Chatty Man the other day, hosted by one of my favourite TV presenters, Alan Carr, and he inspired me to write a post about East-London accents, or as some people (making a generalisation) call it the 'Cockney' accent, since he certainly has some features of those accents in his speech. However, he is not originally from East-London so I decided to observe his way of speaking to his guests on the show and thought that it might be interesting to also include accent adaptation in today's post!
Before starting, I just wanted to quickly clarify that when I talk about Cockney, or any other accent, I am not referring to its prestige or reputation. I am not qualifying personally anybody for his/her accent since for me this is interesting just from the phonetic/linguistic point of view and, although the sociolinguistic aspects of accents intrigue me as well, I do not believe in judging people by the way they speak.Without any further ado, if we observe Alan Carr's speech we can easily identify some pronunciations which remind us to East-London accents. I decided to call it 'East-London accents' but just remember that accents are not something steady or a clearly and unchangeable aspect of pronunciation, since it is an oral quality belonging to living people, I would rather think of it as an imaginary knot resulting from the overlapping of various strings or persons which affect and interfere in one another. That way, East-London accents, depending on the person/knot who speaks them, may have a mash of strings coming from Cockney or Estuary English backrounds, or even from other accents unrelated to the geographic place, in this case, London.
But what are the main characteristics of these accents? Some of the features that people recognise as typical of East-London speech are: TH- fronting, glottal stop and H dropping. While watching episode 10 of season 13 of the Chatty Man show I wrote down some of the things Alan said as examples of those features. TH- fronting (pronouncing 'th-' as the first consonant in "fish") "You /f/ought" = You thought; glottal stop (in this case, producing a glottal closure and cutting off the stream of air instead of pronouncing the /t/ sound (Laver 1994)) "She was dressed as a skele/?/on" = She was dressed like a skeleton; and H dropping (not pronouncing /h/ in initial position (Hughes, Trudgill and Watt 2005), also typical of the North of England) "I lost me 'air" = I lost my hair.
There are certain features that Alan Carr always keeps in his speech, let's say, guest regardless. For example, he does H dropping almost every time, and in my opinion, nobody 'skips' an h more graciously than him. His accent is part of the show and has a role in it as important as his personality. We will talk about the relation between accent and self-identity in another post but it is unquestionable that there is some aspects of his accent which he unconsciously knows he should not lose even when talking to an american guest, as the case of Bett Midler in the episode that I was watching, in order to keep his way of making people laugh through his accent. Moreover, apart from a few stables, he knows what other features of his speech he may accentuate or change when talking to certain guests, such as british singers or, even more, british comedians who usually accentuate their accents to connect better with people. For instance, I consider Alan highlights some aspects of his speech closer to dialects from the North of England while talking with the comedian Leigh Francis. During the interview with this comedian from Leeds he slightly changes his way of speaking, for example saying "me" instead of "my", almost mimicking his guest.
The reason why accent adaptation seems relevant to me taking as an example Alan Carr is because he was born in Weymouth (South West England), raised in Northampton, and then he moved to Manchester where he started his career as a comedian. Although accent adaptation usually happens unconsciously, in the case of Alan Carr he might have some personal reasons for adopting something similar to an East-London accent or otherwise his resulting knot/accent may be more difficult to interpret.
What do you think about Alan Carr's accent? Have you ever find yourself adapting your accent? What other aspects of East-London accents do you know?