So What Does "Cockney" Mean?

Traditionally a Cockney is a Londoner “born within the sound of Bows [Church] Bells” — above is a Bows Bells mile marker

Cockney Dialect

It’s said that although England has dozens of dialects (“Sheffield” for actor Sean Bean, “Manchester” for actor Dominic Monaghan, “Leeds” for Scary Spice), Americans generally recognize only two — Cockney and the Received Pronunciation.  For the latter, think of the Queen, or the Royal Shakespeare Company.  For Cockney, there’s always Eliza Dolittle.

Cockney Identity

A person can speak Cockney (or, if they want to fake it in order to sound tougher and more legit, “Mockney”) and they can also be Cockney.  The notion that true Cockneys were born within the sound of St.Mary-le-bow’s church bells is no longer true; the bells were destroyed in the Blitz of WW II, and since the church’s rebuilding, the surrounding neighborhood has ceased to be residential.  Cockneys are working class folks, usually from London’s East End: places like Bethnal Green, Wapping, and Whitechapel (made infamous by Jack the Ripper).

St. Mary-le-bow today

The Rules of Cockney Speech

This is something I’ve been trying to master for awhile, so I could write the dialect phonetically, at least in places, when my working class characters speak.  But frankly, reading the linguistic breakdown on Wikipedia makes me want to go reorganize my sock drawer.  So here’s an alternative I hope to find helpful:

5 thoughts on “So What Does "Cockney" Mean?

  1. I love it! I grew up watching My Fair Lady. And I took a dialect class some years ago. Very fun! Secret truth: I read aloud sometimes alternating accents every page to keep up my dialect and learn new words. LOL. Fun post! And that video is definitely REAL cockney. hahaha

  2. @jesswords10 — taking a dialect class is a great idea!@ Jenny and Jenx Byron — thanks, glad you liked it.@beaturvey — actually, I have no idea who he is. I had a nice scholarly vid picked out where a real dialect coach discusses Cockney coherently, but it turns out the copyright gods did not permit reposting. So in frustration I chose the other fellow. Kind of glad I did, since at least he amused people enough to respond!

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