A London accent versus ‘lazy speech’

Like Andy, Eileen has been a resident of Cressingham Gardens in Tulse Hill for many years. She grew up in Camberwell and has always lived in Southeast London.

Eileen draws a clear distinction between an accent, such as her ‘South London’ one, and what she calls ‘lazy speech’: ‘A lot of people would say that a person had a London accent, but often, it’s not a London accent; it’s lazy speech. Television presenters have said: “Oh, I’m working-class and proud of it”. – My family is working class and proud of it, but I don’t speak like them. I pronounce my ts and I pronounce the end of my words’.

She says, ‘a lot of it is education, not living in a certain area’. At her school, there was a poetry society and she was encouraged to recite poetry and read out loud. Her pronunciation ‘would be corrected and we’d do mouth exercises like how now brown cow. We had to repeat that until we’d got it.’

Her accent was important to her parents. ‘My father and mother had what you would call a London accent, but it wasn’t lazy speech.’ Her father was a seller at Smithfield market and was fluent in ‘back-slang’. He also taught his children rhyming slang, ‘like up the apples and pears [=stairs]‘. ‘But if we ever said something like, what you hear a lot on television, “opportuni’i”, my father would say: “No, that’s not right. Where is the t?”‘

Her older brother owned a butcher’s shop, and Eileen remembers that he would speak more informally with his customers than ‘in normal conversation’. ‘He would say: “‘ello darlin’ how’re you doing”, because the clientele he had spoke like that. But if he’d said that to my mother, she would say: “Who you’re calling ‘darling’. Don’t you speak to me like that!”‘

But her mother also had ‘lots of funny sayings’, such as ‘my goodness, if the old ‘ns could wake up now, they would turn in their graves’. This used to make her laugh as a child, because of the obvious contradiction, but to her, that is something that’s ‘typical of South Londoners’.

She has also noticed that ‘a lot of white children are very accepting of Black culture and they speak in a certain way. Young South Londoners speak very differently to their parents now’.

South Londoner Eileen
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