An investigation of speech rhythm in London English

Eivind Nessa Torgersen*, Anita Szakay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Recent work on London English has found innovation in inner city areas, most likely as the outcome of dialect contact. These innovations are shared by speakers of different ethnic backgrounds, and have been identified as features of Multicultural London English (MLE). This study examines whether syllable-timing is a feature of MLE, as work on rhythm shows that dialect and language contact may lead to varieties of English becoming more syllable-timed. Narratives as told by teenagers of different ethnic backgrounds and elderly speakers were segmented by forced phonemic alignment and measurements of vocalic normalized Pairwise Variability Index (nPVI), as an indicator of rhythmic patterns, were calculated. The results revealed that young speakers of non-Anglo background were significantly more syllable-timed than young Anglo speakers and the inner-London speakers were more syllable timed than the outer London speakers. Additionally, there was a correlation between articulation rate and nPVI for the non-Anglo speakers: speakers with a high vocalic articulation rate were more syllable-timed. Changes in the duration of particular diphthongs and schwa may have influenced the overall speech rhythm. The relatively low nPVI for all speaker groups may also indicate London's status as a center of linguistic innovation due to long-standing migration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)822-840
Number of pages19
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


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