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Not long ago I went out to see Cockney comedian Micky Flanagan perform at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. (One man alone on stage with one microphone. His two-hour mission: to seek out new laughs and new ways to mock civilization; to boldly zing where no man has zinged before. Standup is the bravest of all the performing arts that don't involve a high wire.) Hearing that East London dialect again (I grew up in the London area) was like slipping into a comfortable old pair of shoes.

Flanagan says he was in a posh Italian restaurant in London and ordered the bruschetta for a starter, and the waiter had the nerve to correct his pronunciation. He had said -sh- for the -sch- part, and of course there were glottal stops where the geminate [t] should have been: [bɹʊˈʃɛʔɐ] is how he said it.

"Bruschetta, said the waiter; "Not broo-SHET-a: [bru&#x02C8sketta]. In our-a language, is pronounced, [bru&#x02C8sketta]."

And in a flash Flanagan retorted: "Yeah? Well in our language it's pronounced 'tomatoes on toast'."

I wish I had a rapid zinger like that waiting in reserve for every time I make a foreign language pronunciation mistake. We linguists tend to say, "Oh, yes, one keeps forgetting that while orthographic ch denotes the palato-alveolar fricative in French and the palato-alveolar affricate in Spanish, in Italian it invariably denotes the voiceless velar stop…" Distinctly unzingy.

I was in part of the East End of London recently, for a dinner with an editor with a magazine I sometimes write for. Only Clerkenwell, not the deep, dark Hackney-Hoxton-Shoreditch-Spitalfields-Whitechapel-Stepney-Bow-Limehouse East End with the drifting yellow fog and opium dens and dockland pubs serving jellied eels and prostitutes saying ’Ello dearie before being murdered by men in capes lurking in the shadows while police constables blow whistles, you understand: that's not only a bit further east, it's also a bit out of date. By about a hundred years.

The East End isn't like the third reel of a Sherlock Holmes movie any more. It's become a richly multi-ethnic, partly-yuppified urban area that my editor friend (originally from Canada) says is the most interesting and friendly place she's ever lived in. Its substantial and diverse population is close to the heart of a huge city known for its banking and other criminal enterprises, but has managed to retain a villagey feel of people knowing people. I told my friend I'd been to see Micky Flanagan. "Oh!" she said, "My next-door neighbour is his cousin!"

I almost felt I should order the bruschetta.

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