The two and three letter words you won’t hear around London and the South East

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University of Kent :
Dr Laura Bailey

The people of Kent are like the Greeks and Italians on a linguistic feature that many people will have noticed in the county, new research at the University shows.

Dr Laura Bailey, a lecturer in English Language and Linguistics in the University’s School of European Culture and Languages (SECL), has carried out research into when people in South East England leave out the words ‘to the’ in sentences.

She said: ‘You’re bound to have heard – or rather, not heard this – around Kent or Sussex. People will often say in informal speech “Shall I come library to meet you?” instead of “Shall I come to the library to meet you?”. They leave out the preposition, “to”, and the article “the”, but only in very particular circumstances.’

Dr Bailey investigated the unconscious rules for when this happens and when it doesn’t, and was surprised to find that the people of Kent are just like the Greeks and the Italians in this respect – making them different to northern English speakers.

Examples included:

  • Does this train go Canterbury West?
  • Not been Shoreditch in ages
  • What pub are you going?
  • The cat’s going vets

Allegations that the linguistic quirk is ‘chav-speech’ are refuted by Dr Bailey. She says it is a feature that came with the wave of Londoners into Kent and Essex in the mid-20th century, and is now seen in Multicultural London English (MLE), the new variety spoken in London. Other researchers have found examples in the Greek, Italian and German languages:

  • Hijazi Arabic: Rayha almadrasa means ‘I’m going the school’
  • Kiezdeutsch (informal variety of German, the Berlin equivalent of MLE): Morgen ich geh arbeitsamt means ‘Tomorrow I’m going job centre’
  • Greek: Pao kinimatografo means ‘I’m going cinema’

Dr Bailey’s conclusions, Some Characteristics of Southeast English preposition dropping, are published in Iberia, an international journal of theoretical linguistics, show that the linguistic features found in any one variety of language are the result of combinations of properties, and pop up wherever the conditions are right.