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Estuary English is a name given to the dialect(s) of English widely spoken in South East England, especially along the River Thames and its estuarymarker. Phonetician John C. Wells defines Estuary English as "Standard English spoken with the accent of the southeast of England". The name comes from the area around the Thames Estuary, particularly Londonmarker, Kentmarker and Essex.

The variety first came to public prominence in an article by David Rosewarne in the Times Educational Supplement in October 1984. Rosewarne argued that it may eventually replace RP (Received Pronunciation). Studies have indicated that Estuary English is not a single coherent form of English; rather, the reality behind the construct consists of some (but not all) phonetic features of working-class London speech spreading at various rates socially into middle-class speech and geographically into other accents of south-eastern England.


Estuary English is characterised by the following features:

  • Non-rhoticity.
  • Use of intrusive R.
  • A broad A ( ) in words such as bath, grass, laugh, etc.
  • T-glottalization: realizing non-initial, most commonly final, as a glottal stop instead of an alveolar stop, e.g. water (pronounced ).
  • Yod-coalescence, i.e., the use of the affricates and instead of the clusters and in words like dune and Tuesday. Thus, these words sound like June and choose day, respectively.
  • L-vocalisation, i.e., the use of , , or where RP uses in the final positions or in a final consonant cluster.
  • The wholly-holy split.
  • Use of confrontational question tags. For example, "We're going later, aren't we?", "I said that, didn't I?"

Despite the similarity between the two dialects, the following characteristics of Cockney pronunciation are generally not considered to be present in Estuary English:

  • H-dropping, i.e., Dropping in stressed words (e.g. for hat)
  • Double negation. However, Estuary English may use never in cases where not would be standard. For example, "he did not" [in reference to a single occasion] might become "he never did".
  • Replacement of with is not found in Estuary, and is also very much in decline amongst Cockney speakers.

However, it should be noted that the boundary between Estuary English and Cockney is far from clear-cut, hence even these features of Cockney might occur occasionally in Estuary English.

In particular, it has been suggested that th-fronting is "currently making its way" into Estuary English, for example those from Isle of Thanetmarker often refer to Thanet as "Plannit Fannit" (Planet Thanet).

Use of Estuary English

Estuary English is widely encountered throughout the south and south-east of Englandmarker, particularly among the young. Many consider it to be a working-class accent, though it is by no means limited to the working class. In the debate that surrounded a 1993 article about Estuary English, a London businessman claimed that Received Pronunciation was perceived as unfriendly, so Estuary English was now preferred for commercial purposes.

Some people adopt the accent as a means of "blending in", appearing to be more working class, or in an attempt to appear to be "a common man" sometimes this affectation of the accent is derisively referred to as "Mockney". A move away from traditional RP is almost universal among upper and upper middle class young people.

The term "Estuary English" is sometimes used with pejorative connotations: Sally Gunnell, a former Olympic athlete who became a television presenter for Channel 4 and the BBC, quit the BBC, announcing she felt "very undermined" by the network's lack of support after she was widely criticised for her "uninspiring interview style" and "awful estuary English".

See also


  2. Rosewarne, David (1984). Estuary English. Times Educational Supplement, 19 (October 1984)
  3. A handout by John C. Wells, one of the first to write a serious description of the would-be variety. Also summarized by him here.
  4. Altendorf, Ulrike (2003). Estuary English - Levelling at the Interface of RP and South-Eastern British English. Tübingen: Narr
  5. Estuary English: A Controversial Issue? by Joanna Ryfa, from
  6. Wells, John (1994). Transcribing Estuary English - a discussion document. Speech Hearing and Language: UCL Work in Progress, volume 8, 1994, pages 259-267
  7. Altendorf, Ulrike (1999). Estuary English: is English going Cockney? In: Moderna Språk, XCIII, 1, 1-11
  8. David Crystal, "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language", p.327

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