From the BBC comes a report on how Londoners speak:
Voices is the biggest-ever survey of how we speak. From January 2005, you can take part and add your voice to the picture.
There’s a page of “facts” (some of them dubious: “Women talk ‘posher’. In every studied language of the world, females use more ‘prestige’, ‘standard’ forms of language”), one on Hackney, and others, but the most interesting one from my point of view is an essay by linguist Laura Wright:
The main regional dialect divide in London is between East and West, with the dividing line being on the eastern edge of the City of London.
This probably marks an ancient political boundary – possibly the boundary between the Middle Saxon kingdom (Middlesex) and the East Saxon kingdom (Essex), which in more recent times became separated further East by the River Lea.
Citizens who grew up East of the Tower of London may (only *may* – not necessarily) have an East End accent, regardless of whether they live north or south of the River Thames.
I’m often told by Londoners that they can tell the difference between a North Londoner and a South Londoner, but I suspect that they are thinking of specific kinds of speakers, that is, working-class ones…
Middle-class speakers don’t have a lot of variation in their accent as compared to working-class speakers. Working-class speakers vary regionally because their speech reflects the accumulation of hundreds of years’ worth of ancestors speaking on the same patch of earth.
Time-depth is reflected in accent. When you listen to an East End accent, you are listening to speakers speaking English in that neck of the woods since perhaps 500 A.D., or whenever the first speakers of what was to become Old English got out of their boats on the foreshore of what were to become the Tower Hamlets – Stepney, Blackwall, Wapping, Limehouse, Poplar, Shadwell – all the villages along the northern shore of the river.
By contrast, the middle-class London RP accent, along with its sister dialect, Standard English, first became commented upon favourably (ie, we know that it connoted a higher social register) in the seventeen-hundreds…
Thanks to Glyn for the link.