Tracing the origins of an urban youth vernacular: founder effects, frequency and culture in the emergence of Multicultural London English
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This chapter traces the chronology of youth language in London from the arrival of the first post-Second World War migrants from Jamaica in 1948 to the early 2000s, by which time what is now known as Multicultural London English (MLE) had become a well-established, recognised variety. Referring to earlier work by Beaken, Hurford, Sebba, and Hewitt, we argue that MLE was preceded by two previous youth languages: London Jamaican and a ‘multiracial vernacular’. Both of these were contingent on users (ethnicity) and on context (expressing solidarity), and neither was a ‘vernacular’ in Labov’s sense. MLE emerged, we argue, in the early 1980s, when London’s inner city had become highly multilingual. Children were acquiring English in communities where the older London variety no longer dominated. The resulting variety, MLE, became for many speakers their vernacular. We also argue that the early Jamaicans formed a ‘founding’ population for youth culture and that this status is reflected in the present day through MLE’s slang. Other linguistic features of MLE, however, only resemble Caribbean Creole to the extent that they are also shared by other input varieties to the mix.