Laura Clark, Daily Mail (London), April 11, 2006
If you struggle to understand Cockney, Brummie, Geordie and Scouse, then stand by for an even bigger challenge.
It’s called Jafaican and, slowly but surely, it is infiltrating the English language.
The multicultural hybrid, based on Jamaican but with undertones of West African and Indian, is not a totally new concept, of course. Ali G has been delivering his comic routines in his own colourful variant of it for some years.
But linguistic experts say it is becoming so common in the inner cities that it is beginning to eclipse traditional accents.
In some London boroughs, for instance, it has taken over from Cockney, the prevailing accent for generations, as inner-city white youths pick up the speech patterns of their black and Asian classmates. More than four out of ten London residents are now from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The Jafaican name, conveying the idea of ‘fake Jamaican’, was coined on the streets rather than in the research rooms. The academics prefer ‘multicultural English’. But the message is constant.
“People are beginning to sound the same regardless of their colour or ethnic background,” said Sue Fox, of London University’s Queen Mary College, who is studying the phenomenon.
She ruled out suggestions that the language is simply the result of white youngsters trying to be cool.
“It’s not about that at all,” she said.
“It seems more likely that young people have been growing up in London exposed to a mixture of second-language English and local London English and that this new variety has emerged from that mix.”
Miss Fox and co-researchers from Lancaster University are analysing the speech patterns of dozens of teenagers at colleges in inner and outer London.
Youngsters have been interviewed and observed talking to their friends over a ten-month period.
What has emerged is a distinctive inner-London patois which borrows heavily from Jamaican creole, lifting some words unchanged.
But it has been influenced by other speech patterns, mainly Bangladeshi and West African, with a little South American and Arab thrown in.
An analysis of vowel sounds has shown the traditional long Cockney vowels are becoming shorter. The word ‘face’ sounds like ‘fice’ in cockney but more like ‘fehs’ in Jafaican.
“Our sample includes teenagers with West Indian, South American, Arab, West African and London backgrounds,” said Miss Fox.
“In London in the post-war years lots of white working-class Cockney families moved out to satellite towns such as Basildon and Harlow. In their place, we have got this huge mix of different ethnic groups.”
While the study is currently focussed on London, Miss Fox believes a similar pattern will be emerging in other cities.
In Bristol recently, police used Ali G-style patois on placards warning young people to curb their antisocial behaviour. They insisted they were merely reflecting the language of target groups.