‘Ow Cockney is Beckham Twenty Years On? An Investigation into H-dropping and T-glottaling

  • Sofia Dahou
  • Jasmine Hamlin
Keywords: lifespan change, intraspeaker variation, sociolinguistics, UK English


This research paper examines how language change can occur across the lifespan through the linguistic analysis of East Londoner, and world renowned football player, David Beckham. Specifically, we look at his use of the consonantal variables of t-glottaling and h-dropping and how the frequency of these forms change over a 20-year period. We discuss the background of the linguistic phenomena under investigation and the common environments in which these non-standard variants are likely to occur. We also take a closer look at how the forms are being used in certain phonotactic environments, for example, word-medial and word-final positions, and the potential reasons behind them being less common when preceding or following certain sounds. We discuss some common theories associated with language change across the lifespan, using quantitative data to find trends and qualitative interpretation to suggest social causes for our findings. The paper allows us to critically evaluate language change theories, such as Labov’ s (1978) apparent time theory.

In designing our study, we hypothesised that Beckham would be seen to undergo linguistic change from his classic East London Cockney features to more prestigious forms. As t-glottaling and h-dropping are stigmatised forms which are commonly associated with a working-class background, we believed that Beckham would go from using a high rate of these variants in his teenage years, due to his lower socioeconomic background, to producing standard /t/ and /h/ more frequently, reflecting his dramatic upward social climb. Due to his rise to fame, we expected that his celebrity status would bring an added pressure to speak in a “correct”  manner, therefore influencing Beckham to opt for the standard variants more frequently. The variants we looked at are also commonly associated with younger speakers, so we expected Beckham’ s aging to further affect his language.

Our results support our hypothesis, showing the extent to which David Beckham’s language choices have changed over time. We found that he showed a significant decrease in both h-dropping and t-glottaling in all phonotactic environments. However, we also found a surprisingly high rate of t-glottalisation before consonants and after vowels in Beckham’ s 2014 recordings. Our data support theories concerning age, social class, sex and dialect convergence. Overall, our paper offers insight into the methodology and theory surrounding language change across the lifespan through the analysis of particular linguistics variables of an English speaker.


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