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  Dublin and London

Dartspeak and Estuary English


The term ‘Estuary English’ was invented by the language teacher David Rosewarne in 1984 and has since been taken up by journalists and public alike (Coggle 1993: 24-35). It is the label for a variety of English intermediate between RP and Cockney. It makes a vague reference to the Thames estuary, implying that the variety is spoken in counties which border on this river and, of course, that it is spoken in London. The term is something of a misnomer as its features are found outside the Home Counties, particularly in the triangle drawn by the three cities Cambridge (north), London (south) and Oxford (west). It is also found along the coastal south and south-east, areas which are not adjacent to the River Thames.

Both Dartspeak (a popular term for the new pronunciation of the 1990s/early 2000s) and Estuary English are regarded as cool by the urban communities where they occur. For this reason they show a clear tendency to spread. In the case of Estuary English one can see that it already encompasses not just the Home Counties but the Thames Valley and is found in many urban centres north of this, such as those in the West Midlands, the Mersey areas and as far north as Tyneside.

Estuary English does not have immediate class implications, for instance, many inhabitants of the south-east which could be classified conventionally as middle-class – non-manual workers of various kinds – speak a variety which shows the features which Rosewarne, and those who followed him, saw as typical of Estuary English.

The features which are generally associated with Estuary English can be shown in two tables, one demonstrating its difference to Cockney and one illustrating its difference to RP.

The intermediate position of Estuary English on a scale of relative standardness in south-east British English may well be the result of two social tendencies: the first is the desire of local speakers to lose some of the more salient features of their speech. This applies particularly to non-binary features such as diphthong shift in the FACE, PRICE and GOAT lexical sets as speakers can move up and down this scale continuously. The second trend is the opposite: the wish on the part of RP speakers to be more contemporary and less posh in their speech. This involves the adoption of certain, but by no means all, features of Cockney as shown in the above tables.

Some lexicalised features may also appear in the speech of Estuary English speakers, e.g. the pronunciation of final /-k/ in words ending in -thing, e.g. something. Cluster simplification may also be found as in /nt/ > /n/ intervocalically, e.g. twenty [tweni], plenty [pleni].

Of all the features listed above, the two, which could be highlighted as the most active trends in the speech of middle-class south-east British, are (i) T-glottaling, both word-finally and, increasingly, intervocalically, e.g. but [bʌʔ] and butter [bʌʔə] and (ii) L-vocalisation as in milk [mɪʊk], help [heʊp].

Dartspeak and Estuary English

Yod-deletion is an established feature of Irish English after sonorants in stressed syllables. Thus one has [nu:z] and [lu:t] for news and lute respectively. This deletion tends to spread to other contexts, e.g. after an alveolar fricative, e.g. suit [su:t]. Yod deletion after labials and velars is unknown, i.e. yod is present in words like mute and cute. It is also not found after alveolar stops, i.e. tune and stew both show yod. What is termed yod-coalescence in Estuary English is an established feature of Dublin and Irish English so that due and Jew are always homophonous and hence contrast does exist here. ST-palatalisation, the use of [š] rather than [s] in words like stew, is not found in Dublin English. Indeed in those words where there is variation between [š] and [s] Dublin English shows a preference for the latter, e.g. issue and appreciate.

Certain consonantal features are prominent in Estuary English, such as T-glottalisation, L-vocalisation and R-vocalisation (Tollfree 1999). The last is an inherent feature of south-east British English and not a process to be observed in any emerging varieties. However, the realisation of /r/ is subject to change, especially in the labialisation of /r/ which can be observed in Britain (Trudgill 1988).

There are features which are found in Dublin English but not in south-east British English, e.g. word-initial /h-/ is always present in Dublin (and the rest of Ireland) and so the contrast of h-deletion and h-retention is not present in Ireland. TH-fronting, as in [fri:] for three, is completely unknown in Irish English and hence is not an option for any speaker group in Dublin.

The status of features varies as well. While T-glottalisation is becoming increasingly established in colloquial forms of RP (Wells 1994), it is still very much stigmatised in Dublin English and is definitely not part of either mainstream varieties or the new pronunciation.

A comparison of the linguistic features of Dartspeak and Estuary English shows how both similar and different features have varying status in both varieties, on the one hand depending on whether they occur in local forms of English and on the other hand on what the relationship is to both local forms and more standard, RP-like varieties.


This brief examination of trends in pronunciation in the metropolitan regions of Ireland and England has shown parallels and differences. Social motivation lies behind the developments in both cases. The Irish situation is different from that in England as no standard of English in Ireland was readily available for those speakers who, in the 1990s, wished to move away from more local forms of speech in the capital. For that reason, they could not just adopt a variety already present in their surroundings. Instead a variety arose based on dissociation from more local varieties. The juxtaposition of new and local features shows clearly how the former are diametrically opposed to the latter, with the exception of some traditional, non-salient features.

In south-east England the situation was different: a standard pronunciation was available, but was viewed as increasingly inappropriate for the modern world. A movement towards the local vernacular took place and is still doing so. The newer, demotic variety of toned-down RP has served as a bridge between social groups and may continue to do so. Its future development is uncertain, given the scalar nature of varieties between Cockney and RP, but the increasing adoption of local features into varieties higher up the scale seems to be a definite tendency (Wells 1994). This does not appear to be the case in Dublin English, most probably because of social pretension (Hickey 2003) and the notion that a new Ireland has arisen and is here to stay (the current pace of change in Ireland is much greater than in England). The altered conception of themselves, which non-local Irish have today, would militate against the adoption of local features into newer varieties of Irish English.


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Coggle, Paul 1993. Do You Speak Estuary? The New Standard English - How to Spot it and Speak it. London: Bloomsbury.

Dossena, Marina and Charles Jones (eds) 2003. Insights into Late Modern English. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

Fisiak, Jacek and Marcin Krygier (eds) 1998. English Historical Linguistics 1996. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Fabricius, Anne 2002. ‘Ongoing change in modern RP: Evidence for the disappearing stigma of t-glottalling’, English World-Wide 23: 115-136.

Hickey, Raymond. 2003. ‘What’s cool in Irish English? Linguistic change in contemporary Ireland’, in Hildegard L. C. Tristram (ed.) The Celtic Englishes III. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, pp. 357-373.

Hickey, Raymond 2007. ‘Dartspeak and Estuary English. Advanced metropolitan speech in Ireland and England’, in: Ute Smit, Stefan Dollinger, Julia Hüttner, Ursula Lutzky, Gunther Kaltenböck (eds). Tracing English through Time: Explorations in Language Variation. Vienna: Braumüller, pp. 179-190.

Przedlacka, Joanna 1999. Estuary English? A Sociophonetic Study of Teenage Speech in the Home Counties. Frankfurt: Lang.

Przedlacka, Joanna 2001. ‘Estuary English and RP: some recent findings’, Studia Anglica Posneniansa 36: 35-50.

Tollfree, Laura 1999. ‘South East London English: discrete versus continuous modelling of consonantal reduction’, in Foulkes and Docherty (eds), pp. 163-84. Trudgill, Peter 1988. ‘Norwich revisited: recent linguistic changes in an English urban dialect’, English World-Wide 9: 33-49.

Wells, John C. 1982. Accents of English. 3 Vols. Cambridge: University Press.

Wells, John C. 1994. ‘The Cockneyfication of R.P.?’, in: Gunnel Melchers and Nils-Lennart Johannesson (eds) Nonstandard Varieties of Language. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, pp. 198-205.