oxford circus london by paola bassanese

The Linguist Magazine and British Culture

This article is in partnership with Day Translations.

The second issue of The Linguist Magazine by Day Translations features British culture quite extensively. It all starts from the cover image with a picture of the famous London landmark Big Ben and then continues with articles about Day Translations’ London office, typical expressions in the English language and a commentary about pronunciation.

London as an International Destination for Linguists

One of the many aspects of learning a language is familiarising yourself with colloquialisms. The English language has plenty of expressions that draw from tradition and sometimes from using Cockney slang, which is the dialect that people from mainly East London have been speaking. One of the characteristics of the Cockney rhyming slang (named after the people coming from East London) is using words that rhyme with each other and then using the rhyme instead of the actual word. These expressions emerged during the early 1800s.

If we are to be very precise, the exact geographical area where Cockneys originated from can be defined as Cheapside in London and its surroundings for as long as you could hear the church bells from Mary-le Bow church.

The rhyming slang was a subterfuge that market traders and petty criminals used to talk to each other without others fully understanding what they meant. This was particularly useful when discussing dodgy business as a policeman would walk by.

Typical examples are:

  • “apples and pears” to mean stairs;
  • “Adam and Eve” to mean “believe”;
  • “lemon squeezy” to mean “easy”;
  • “Army and Navy” to mean “gravy” (and there’s me thinking it referred to a famous department store in London!);
  • “jam tart” to mean “heart”.

Speaking in codes have been popular for a long time and it’s often a way to create a cohesive group, which is why it has been used widely among groups of children or fan clubs, developing their own words and expressions.

The Linguist Magazine also mentions that some vernacular expressions have evolved and new ones have been created, particularly through social media apps like TikTok that encourage self-expression. So, you can even have sayings that are literal translations from other languages or completely new words. For example, Day Translations mentioned the expression “Not my circus, not my monkeys” which is a literal translation from Polish but that has become a common expression in English. In fact, some expressions are implied and content creators simply add “IYKYK” (if you know, you know) to their videos as the intended meaning would be understood by the appropriate selected audience.

Talking about pronunciation and elocution, The Linguist Magazine looks at how regional accents are an integral part of a country’s culture. In the UK there are various regional accents and they have been used for different functions in business. For example, the Scottish accent has been found to be one of the friendliest in the UK and therefore call centre operators and other remote assistance operators are often from Scotland to make callers feel more at ease.

On the opposite side of the scale is “RP” or “received pronunciation” which is typical of the upper classes and Brisith royalty. Historically, people with this accent were given more chances to succeed in their career as they came across as better educated and more authoritative. However, society has moved on and times have changed, with the current emphasis being more on diversity and inclusion.

So, while the standard British accent is often perceived as being more polished than the American accent, people’s attitudes have evolved to appreciate English being spoken with international accents because what really matters is being able to communicate in a common language.