East Londoners want Cockney recognised as official language

The term Cockney has traditionally been used to describe a person from the East End, or born within earshot of Bow Bells
The term Cockney has traditionally been used to describe a person from the East End, or born within earshot of Bow Bells

A group of east Londoners have called for Cockney to be recognised as an official language.

Multi-cultural group Cockney Culture launched a petition that called on Tower Hamlets council to help preserve the east London dialect’s “unique cultural heritage” and have it used in the borough’s local community provisions.

Saif Osmani of the Bengali East End Heritage Society said Cockney has an extremely rich heritage of up to 600 years of history, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

He told a full council meeting on Wednesday: “To the working class communities and to other classes as well, to the ethnic minority Cockneys of Somali background, Bengali background, Jewish, Polish and German; Cockney is known worldwide through characters such as the characters in Marvel [films] to more UK shows such as EastEnders, but these characters are all connected to the East End in some way.

“We think by promoting it, it will promote better revenue and more commercial interest into the borough for the council here today.”

Cllr Amina Ali of the Labour Party asked whether Cockney is defined as an accent or an identity.

Cllr Ali said: “Many people identify as Cockneys rather than having Cockney as a language and modern Cockney has got a lot of Patois in it. Should we then say that Patois spoken in the Caribbean should also be a community language as well?”

Mr Osmani responded and said: “If I was [in Jamaica], I’d like to find out how language is evolving. It’s not always just a set thing, language always changes as we are finding out in the East End.

“Multicultural London English is a particular thing but it’s not Cockney, it’s a very different thing as you can be Cockney Black, Cockney Bengali, Cockney whatever - but Multicultural London English is probably what you are referring to when you can take on other languages as well.”

After the petition was heard and councillors asked questions, the speaker of the council Cllr Shafi Ahmed said a response will be sent to the group within 28 days.

Cockney Cultures say the first recorded reference to Cockney was in 1360 in the text of ‘Piers Plowman’, but the Cockney identity since 1617 has traditionally been associated with being born with the vicinity of St. Mary-le-Bow Church on Cheapside, London.

But the rapid expansion brought on by its use in popular culture has led campaigners to recognise that “Bow Bells’ is heard through the heart” where Cockney identity can be marked by an affinity with the ‘common Londoner’.

The Office of National Statistics published data that found after English (73 per cent), Bengali is the most commonly spoken language in Tower Hamlets (11 per cent) than Italian (2.2 per cent) and Spanish (1.7 per cent).

The Modern Cockney Festival 2023 runs from 3rd March to 4th April and includes talks, discussions, outdoor exhibition and in-person meet ups.