Lecture: Paul Kerswill

When and Where

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 11:00 am to 12:30 pm
Room 3180
New North Building
University of Toronto Mississauga


Paul Kerswill, University of York


Demography in the formation of Multicultural London English: the Jamaican component

Paul Kerswill, University of York

In North-west Europe, new varieties of established languages have rapidly emerged following particularly intense periods of migration (Wiese 2017). Recent arrivals acquire the local languages with varying levels of fluency, while the second generation acquire native competence. To varying degrees, the new varieties differ structurally from the established varieties, and the obvious question arises as to the mechanisms behind these changes.


I will explore the origins of these innovative features, which have variously been ascribed to learner varieties, other varieties of the language, and (where relevant) formal education. All of these factors are facilitated by the relative unavailability of a ‘native’ local dialect, both in the home and in the community; in this respect only, the new urban contact dialects resemble koines. Grammatical and phonological restructuring have free rein.


These insights do not in themselves predict which features will dominate in the new dialect. A possible framework is Trudgill’s (2004) deterministic model of new-dialect formation, by which, where the migrants establish entirely new settlements, the outcomes are predictable from the frequency with which particular dialect features are heard in the initial mix. The problem with this is that the new contact dialects of this type can only be formed after language shift has taken place. A broader model is therefore needed. A candidate is the Founder Principle as applied by Mufwene (1996) to explain the differences between African American English and Caribbean Creoles. This model is highly sensitive to demography and changes in demography, but also social relations among the different population groups represented.


Taking Multicultural London English as a case study (Cheshire et al. 2011) and tracing immigration patterns in the post-World War II period, I will investigate the extent to which the Founder Principle is able to account for the features in this variety, focusing for this talk on the influence of the first immigrant group, the Jamaicans. However, such a mechanistic approach obscures linguistic usage and subjective factors. Speakers use the contact dialect as part of a linguistic repertoire (Sharma 2011), which is sensitive to context and speaker’s stance, as well as being used more or less proactively for broader identity purposes.


PDF iconPoster

Contact Information


Department of Language Studies, University of Toronto Mississauga


University of Toronto Mississauga