The Rhyming Cockney Accent of Britain

By Swathika.

Cockney, originally used as a pejorative term for all city-dwellers, is now used to refer to all the working-class people in London’s East End. It traditionally refers to the accent of English spoken by the working-class population of London, and it became known as Estuary English. Some of the common features of this accent are the glottal stop, substituting a /w/ for /l/, dropping the /h/ for the /a/ in words, and the rhyming slang.

However, studies have now shown that in London’s East End some traditional features of cockney have been displaced by a Jamaican Creole-influenced variety popular among young Londoners known as ‘Jafaican’, also referred to as Multi-Cultural London English.  But features of the cockney such as the double negatives, rhyming slang, and the glottal stop are still in use. Other features of cockney also include: the raised vowel in words like ‘trap’ and ‘cat’ so these sound like ‘trep’ and ‘cet’; non-rhoticity, meaning the ‘r’ at the end of words isn’t pronounced; trap-bath split, meaning that certain ‘a’ words like ‘bath’, ‘can’t’, ‘dance’, are pronounced with the broad-a in ‘father’; and th-fronting.

These videos from the British TV show “Mind Your Language” provide some examples of cockney rhyming slang.

This is a cockney slang speech example:


Norman Fairclough on the Rhetorical Style of Tony Blair

By Swathika.

The book New Labour, New Language by Norman Fairclough talks about how political leaders present themselves, and how the language used by a politician is different from that used by an ordinary man. And as you go on to read the book, you will also find that the power and position of a person, the occupation, age etc. influences the kind of language used by that person. One important part of this book is about how Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, creates a character he wishes to present using his unique style of language, that is different from that of most other politicians and specific to him. Norman Fairclough tells us that Tony Blair presents himself as a ‘normal person’ as well as a ‘political leader’ via the rhetorical style he employs in his speeches. The main examples quoted in the book are as follows:

If you want to read the whole speech then click on this link: Tony Blair 1997 Labour Party speech. Here is a short clip:

In 1997 after the Labour Party had came to power, the newly-elected Labour PM Tony Blair summarized his objectives at the first Labour Conference in Brighton: (the conference’s slogan was “new Labour, new Britain”)

Today I want to set out an ambitious course for this country: to be nothing less than the model 21st century nation, a beacon to the world.

Norman Fairclough goes on to tell the readers that ‘Blair’s rhetorical style is not purely a matter of language. It is a matter of his total bodily performance, of which what he says is just a part. It is a matter of how he sounds, how he looks, the shifting expressions on his face, the way he moves his head and other parts of his body.’ So it’s not just the kind of words that Tony Blair uses in his speech. His body language also contributes to his political identity.

As you turn the pages, you will also see that Fairclough has talked about how Blair uses everyday English in his political speeches, presenting himself as a ‘normal person’, like any other person in the audience/public. In fact, Fairclough says that Blair himself wrote:

I feel like a perfectly normal person. I look at politicians who are older than me and I wonder when was the last time they had their own thoughts to themselves in their own way without feeling they had to programme their thoughts to get across a message … I don’t feel much like a politician.

Moreover, Tony Blair’s speech on the death of Princess Diana in 1997 is also a good example, showing how he reflects himself to be a ‘normal person’. In the speech, he says:

I feel like everyone else in the country today—utterly devastated. Our thoughts and prayers are with Princess Diana’s family—in particular her two sons, two boys—our hearts go out to them. We are today a nation, in Britain, in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us.

As Fairclough has written in his book, “Tony Blair combines an everyday emotional language (‘utterly devastated’, ‘in the state of shock’) with formal ceremonial expressions of regret (‘we are today a nation in mourning’) in a way which brings his emotional reaction as a ‘normal person’ (as he puts it, ‘like everyone else’) into his official task as Prime Minister”.

The following is an extract from a Guardian article, “Blair’s Rhetorical Style“:

This is the conventional sort of language that leaders use to speak on behalf of the nation on such occasions. Blair uses the first person plural (‘we’), and predictable, pre-constructed expressions (cliches)—’thoughts and prayers’, ‘our hearts go out to them’, ‘a nation in mourning’ (once you hear ‘our hearts’ for instance on this sort of occasion, you can predict ‘go out’). But threaded into this conventional public language is a more personal language (Blair begins speaking for himself, in the first person singular, and about his own feelings) and a more vernacular language. It is as if Blair (with his advisers—the speech has been attributed to Alistair Campbell) had started with the official form of words, then personalised and informalised it. He uses a vernacular language of affect as well as a public one—’utterly devastated’, ‘in a state of shock’. Notice also the way he re-words ‘her two sons’ as ‘two boys’, which again is a shift between a more formal way of referring to them in terms of their relationship to Diana and a more intimate, family way. Blair says he feels ‘like everyone else’—he is not only speaking formally for ‘the nation’, he is also speaking informally for ordinary people; and part of the power of his style is his ability to combine formality and informality, ceremony and feeling, publicness and privateness.

Finally, Fairclough also says that Blair uses vernacular expressions like “quit whilst I’m ahead” as a way of claiming his ‘normalness’, although the usage of ‘whilst’ rather than ‘while’ makes him sound more middle-class and ‘whilst’ is now considered to be archaic. And he also writes that Blair uses several conversational features such as repetition, incomplete utterances, fillers etc. suggesting that he is responding in a thoughtful way rather than reeling off prepared answers, which most politicians are expected to do.

Thus, politics has a very different and unique connection with the English language, and the language used by politicians is intertwined and linked with several other factors, reflecting the identity of the person. People should understand this interconnection and must not be just blinded with the sophisticated lexis used.

The Iron Lady and her changing voice

By Swathika.

Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, who is well-known as the “Iron Lady”, is also known for changing her voice throughout her service as the Prime Minister of Britain. She was coached to lower her pitch to sound more masculine. This was used by the media to write articles about her varying voices with headlines like “From ‘Shrill’ Housewife to Downing Street”her voice was described as powerful and persuasive, soft and cajoling, distinctive, and was said to be one of her most potent political weapons. The lowered pitch was not only to sound more masculine but also to develop a calm and authoritative tone, revealing the extent to which power changes the way people speak.

Below is a video in which people talk about how certain kinds of voices are better suited for certain activities than others.

George Orwell on Politics and English Language

By Swathika.

George Orwell, who became famous with his masterpieces 1984 and Animal Farm has written a lot about politics and the English language. Here are some of his quotes and slogans from his writings, some of which have driven me to know more about politics and his works.

Image result for george orwell quotes 1984

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

“During times of universal deceit telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

“If you want a vision of the future imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.”

“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

Politicians often seem to adapt their style away from prestige forms and shift towards covert prestige and more influential forms—”demotic” (the language of the people). Political language contains mostly euphemisms, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.

The usage of these euphemisms and deliberate/purposeful vagueness is all part of the “political correctness” that most politicians talk about in media. In many political speeches, three common language features—pretentious diction, operators, and dying metaphors can be noticed. The usage of these features, and sophisticated and difficult words not only blinds people, it confuses them. In fact, George Orwell states that the reason why such jargon and difficult lexis or vocabulary is used is to gain people’s trust.

In addition to this, the usage of such sophisticated vocabulary is not only a marker of high status, but it presents the speaker to be well-educated, adding to the powerful and authoritative tone of the speech. Moreover, George Orwell also states that the usage of vague language in political speeches suggests that the speaker is trying to hide important facts from the audience and is trying to create a persona of someone the audience would like and not as someone who is violent, gruesome, dishonest, disrespectful etc. He further says that nowadays texts include less meaning and imagery and instead consist of wordy phrases.

Here are the rules that George Orwell states in his essay to make political writing better:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Assorted Tumblrs, All Flavours

By Sitara.

Tumblr is home to a little less than three hundred million tumblelogs, and more than five hundred million visitors every month. Suffice to say, Tumblr is one of the biggest platforms for creative content.

Below is a collection of Tumblrs, with content varying from old films to submitted illustrations.

1. Design Story

Design Story posts submitted art; as illustrations, as GIFs, as typography, and sometimes even short reels of animation. The Tumblr is carefully curated, with only the best work finally ending up on the blog. Design Story is a good place to go to for design inspiration, and a good place, too, to find exceptional illustrators and animators. (Note from March 11 ’17: Design Story’s Tumblr has disappeared from the Internet, and so have its other profiles, so this entry on the list is zilch now.)

2. EatSleepDraw

EatSleepDraw is much like the aforementioned Tumblr, but is, perhaps, a little more well-known. Its standards are slightly lower, though, but according to its curators, having your work published on EatSleepDraw is considered equivalent to having it published in a proper magazine—even more so, in fact, since EatSleepDraw has a considerably larger audience than several magazines.

3. The New Yorker

The New Yorker publishes weekly doses of satirical political cartoons, literature, interviews and the usual cultural material. Their Tumblr is entertaining in particular because of their daily cartoons, and their weekly issue covers.

4. Houghton Library

Houghton Library stores Harvard University’s archives of old books and manuscripts, and every once in a while, the library posts something from its collection on Tumblr. Its illustrations and photographs are fascinating, even digitally.

5. Fictitious Dishes

Fictitious Dishes is a book (and a website) by Dinah Fried, and comprises a series of photographs of meals from literature. There’s Holden’s milk and sandwich from The Catcher in the Rye, chicken breakfast from To Kill a Mockingbird, tea from the Mad Hatter’s table, and lots more. The Tumblr has these photographs, as well as posts of illustrations of food from books.

6. Nitrate Diva


Nitrate Diva is a blog run by a vintage film enthusiast, and she regularly posts “old movie GIFs, darling”. There is also a WordPress counterpart, with longer articles and reviews and write-ups, and that sort of thing. Nitrate Diva brings back to life the slowly dying world of early cinema, and might even convince you to try some of the films and see for yourselves.

7. 9 Squares


9 Squares is a collaborative project begun by Al Boardman, Skip Dolphin Hursh, and David Stanfield. For each work, nine animators make nine GIFs based on a specified colour scheme. The similarities and differences amongst nine different styles of animation can be entertaining, if that’s what you like in an art blog.