Received Pronunciation

From Academic Kids

Received Pronunciation (RP) is a form of pronunciation of the English language, sometimes defined as the "educated spoken English of southeastern England". According to the Fowler's Modern English Usage (1965), the term is "the Received Pronunciation".

RP speech is non-rhotic, meaning that written r is pronounced only if it is followed by a vowel sound.

Earlier, Received Pronunciation was sometimes referred to as BBC English (as it was traditionally used by the BBC). This term remains in use today, though less frequently than in past decades.

Many Britons abroad modify their accent to make their pronunciation closer to Received Pronunciation, in order to be better understood than if they were using their usual accent. They may also modify their vocabulary and grammar to be closer to Standard English (also known as the Queen's English), for the same reason.

Changing status of Received Pronunciation

Traditionally, Received Pronunciation is the accent of English which is the everyday speech of families of Southern English persons whose menfolk have been educated at the great public boarding schools (Daniel Jones, English Pronouncing Dictionary, 1926 — he had earlier called it "Public School Pronunciation"), and which conveys no information about that speaker's region of origin prior to attending the school. For many years, the use of Received Pronunciation was considered a mark of education. It was standard practice until around the 1950s for those with regional accents who went to university to change their accent to be closer to RP. As a result, at a time when only around five percent of the population attended university elitist notions sprang up around it and those who used it may have considered those who did not to be less educated than themselves.

There was some truth in this, as historically most of the best educational institutions (Oxford, Cambridge, many public schools) were located in South East England, so those who were educated there would pick up the accents of their peers. There have always been exceptions: for example, the Edinburgh accent had a similar cachet.

However, from the 1970s onwards, attitudes towards Received Pronunciation have been slowly changing. One of the primary catalysts for this was the influence in the 1960s of Labour prime minister Harold Wilson. Unusually for a prime minister he spoke with a strong Yorkshire accent, exaggerated, some said, to appeal to the working classes his party represented. As a result of the trend begun by Wilson and others in the 1960s, the accents of the English regions and of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are today more likely to be considered to be on a par with Received Pronunciation, which by the turn of the century was only spoken by around three percent of the population. BBC reporters no longer need to, and often do not, use Received Pronunciation.

The form of RP has itself changed over the past decades. Sound recordings and films from the first half of the 20th century demonstrate that it was standard to pronounce the short "a" sound, as in "land", almost as though it was a short "e", as in "lend". RP is sometimes known as "The Queen's English" but recordings show that even the Queen has changed her pronunciation over the past 50 years, no longer pronouncing words like "land" as though they rhymed with "lend".

The ongoing spread of Estuary English from the London metropolitan area through the whole South-East leads some people to believe that this will take the place of Received Pronunciation as the "Standard English" of the future. There are, however, important factors that militate against this, including the perceived inferior status and alleged lower intelligibility of Estuary English, which is characterized by the dropping of consonants, and use of the glottal stop.

The closest equivalent in the United States is General American, although this is rhotic rather than non-rhotic. Until the post-World War II era, some American actors and announcers used the now defunct Mid-Atlantic accent, which has been completely supplanted by General American, and among newsreaders by the Standard Midwestern accent.

Speaking with Received Pronunciation

Template:IPA notice In general, the accent gives great importance to vowel sounds, which are extended and rounded.

In RP, as for most English speakers, but not for speakers of some other English dialects:

  • "Oh!" is pronounced as a diphthong , with a w sound to round off the word.
  • "Room" is often (but not always) pronounced with a short vowel sound. long:; short:.

In addition to manipulating the vowels, great attention is paid to articulating consonants clearly. Therefore, whilst some accents may "drop hs", transforming "hello" to "'ello", or merge the t sound and the d sound at the beginning of unaccented syllables, pronouncing "coding" and "coating" the same (as some Americans do), Received Pronunciation makes sure to enunciate every consonant distinctly, except for the r consonant, which is not pronounced when it immediately precedes a consonant (as in cart), and which is enunciated at the end of syllables only when linking with vowel sounds. This is true regardless of whether the syllable linking is intrinsic or extrinsic to a word.

For example: The word "heresy" has a clear r consonant, but the word "hearsay" does not. Similarly, "here we are" does not have either r pronounced, but "here it is" has its single r clearly pronounced.

Further, it is usually acceptable to use an optional linking R between words to pronounce expressions such as "law and order" to sound like . The final r here depends on what follows.

There is a great number of distinct vowel sounds, for example "caught" (homophonic with court), "cot" (rhymes with rot), "cart" (rhymes with dart) are different in Received Pronunciation.

On the other hand, in common with most non-rhotic dialects "formerly" and "formally" are homophones in Received Pronunciation, although rhotic speakers pronounce the words differently from each other. Similarly "ion" and "iron", , though "ion" may also be pronounced .

Also the l, in words ending in "lk" that rhyme with , is not pronounced, so "stalk" and "stork" are homophones .

The Broad A sound, which appears in locations where other accents would have a short A, is clipped, although many assume it to be particularly elongated, making it easy to distinguish people mocking the accent, or attempting it to appear above their social class, from those whose accent is naturally similar. This is notable in the pronunciation of words such as "class" . Many RP speakers also drop the h from wh, pronouncing "Wales" and "whales" identically .

The distinction between horse and hoarse is lost in RP.

"Calm" is pronounced rather than . A reference to this is made in the play Waiting For Godot.

See also


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