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Home > Media

The New Black? Part Three

A Guide To UK Urban English by Dr Keely Fisher

13 December 2003

This guide to Urban English (UE) is by no means exhaustive; and speakers of UE might object to the spellings of some words. UE has no set orthography, and any attempts to devise one would be complicated by the vogue in youth culture for abbreviated spelling systems, on account of the ubiquitous popularity of text-message communication on mobile phones (mate > m8; see you tonight > c u 2nite, and so on).

The Guide:

1. As in Caribbean English (CE), th is commonly pronounced as d or t. Thus this 'n' that > dis 'n' dat; thing > ting; and thief/thieve > tief.

2. As in CE, reverse the standard declension of personal pronouns. Thus: I say > me say; he says > (h)im say; they say > dem say. Them is often used where standard English would have the form their: dem wine up dem waist.

3. Master these CE verb forms:

    a) cut the -s conjugation of the third-person singular, present tense: she cooks very well > she cook good

    b) the proclitic form a- of the verb be: I am going to tell them > me a-go tell dem

    c) the enclitic form haffi in 'have to + verb' constructions: I have to leave > me haffi leave

    d) 'fe/fi + verb' in 'to + verb' constructions: she likes to take risks > she like fi tek risk

    e) 'do/be + not + verb' constructions are rendered 'nah/nuh + verb': I am not lying > me nah lie, he doesn't listen > I'm nah listen.

4. Adopt the following CE words and phrases: gwaan [for go on]; aks [for ask: pronounced arks]; 'pon [for upon]; becaw or caw [for because: but note that the British and US form coz is frequent too]; vex [adjective: vexed/furious]; cho [expression of contempt or irritation that is stronger than tutting]; bun [to burn / smoke weed]; cuss and to cuss off/out/up [noun and verb, from curse: abusive language, or to row / scold]; cut-eye and to cut (your) eye after/at somebody [noun and verb: contempt shown by narrowing of the eyelids]; to suck/kiss/skin (your) teeth [to make a noise with air inhaled through closed teeth to convey disgust, irritation or impatience].

5. As in CE usage, reduplicate words or phrases for emphasis: thus that tune was bad bad bad, or look 'pon 'im fool fooly clothes.

6. As in CE, there is palatalisation of g before a sounds, so that girl / gal is pronounced gyal. At present in UE, this pronunciation is rare beyond this particular word.

7. Adopt the following UE words and phrases (not specifically derived from CE): yo [instead of oi or hey]; crew or posse [in place of group of friends / mates etc]; blood [for mate / crew member]; hater/hate [noun and verb: an envious person, or to envy and hold in contempt]; dis [for disrespect, noun and verb]; nuff [for enough / plenty]; 'bout [for about]; proper [for the best/excellent, and for the adverb properly]; manor [equivalent of US neighbourhood/ 'hood]; dark [someone or something with hidden depths]; Five-0 or 5-0 [police: a US term derived from 1970s TV cop show Hawaii 5-0]; heavy [term of approval; updated version of wicked or bad]; buff or fit [adjectives applicable to both sexes for someone with a fit and sexually appealing physique]; to chill (out) [to relax totally, often carrying the suggestion of smoking weed while doing so]; bling bling [the glint of ice (diamonds): a metonym for material wealth]. The verb reminisce is important when talking about the salad days of one's youth; the nostaligic mood is usually set with the phrase 'back in the day'.

8. Linguistic tags and hedges, the means by which we stall for time in a speech (errm, umm, etc.), will be: like, right, kind of, and yeah(?).

9. To signal for approval, use: you know what I mean?, you know what I'm saying?, you get me? or innit? [from isn't it] at the end of statements.

10. Use innit! or yes blood! to convey empathy.

11. To convey a mood of sincerity and intimacy in your speech, use the phrase 'really and truly'.

12. To sum up and end a topic of discussion, begin with the phrase 'at the end of the day'.

Note: UE is an exclusive way of speaking. Attempts by people from privileged backgrounds (of whatever race) to adopt UE speech patterns would be subject to scorn much like that hurled in recent years at Received Pronunciation speakers who use features of London English usage, and are thus derided as ‘mockney’. Likewise, the use of too many marked CE forms by non-black speakers of UE (beyond intimate speech acts with close friends), would be considered affected, and perhaps interpreted as toadying.

You have been warned.


< Part One < Part Two



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