Received Pronunciation

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Received Pronunciation (RP), also sometimes called the Queen's (or King's) English, Oxford English or BBC English,[1] is a form of British English. It has been traditionally considered the accent of Standard English in England and consequently RP pronunciations are those given in dictionaries and in English-teaching textbooks. The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language describes it as a "class based" rather than a "regional based" accent.

In reality, only around two percent[1][2] of Britons speak with the RP accent in its purest form, and almost certainly a much smaller percentage of English teachers have this accent.

This creates a rather unfortunate situation in which teachers are apparently encouraged to teach an accent which they do not themselves possess; and which would theoretically create students who speak in a minority class-based language - in the somewhat unlikely event that they were, in fact, able to learn it. Likewise, it requires those teachers who themselves speak it, or any other variation of English, for that matter, must be sure to point out that their own speech is only one of several models students will come across outside the classroom.

History[edit]

The term was originally coined in 1869 by the linguist A J Ellis, but it was only after the phonetician, Daniel Jones, adopted it for the second edition of his English Pronouncing Dictionary (1924) that it came into more widespread use.[1] The origins of RP is in the public schools and universities of nineteenth-century Britain, and Daniel Jones had initially used the term "Public School Pronunciation" to describe RP.[1]

Varieties[edit]

One outstanding feature of RP is that, even if it is possibly more associated with the south of England, it does not actually correspond to any one region of the UK. So while we refer to people having a ‘broad’ or ‘mild’ or a ‘strong’ or ‘soft’ regional accent, these terms are inadequate when referring to RP, and we therefore use the following three categories[1]:

  • Conservative RP, which refers to the very traditional variety associated with older speakers and the aristocracy;
  • Mainstream RP, which describes an accent considered neutral in terms of age, occupation or lifestyle of the speaker, and
  • Contemporary RP, which refers normally to younger RP speakers.

Vowels[edit]

The vowel phonemes of Received Pronunciation

Phoneme Examples Common sounds
/æ/ trap [æ], [a][3]
/ɑː/ bath, palm, start [ɑː]
/e/ dress [ɛ]
/eɪ/ face [eɪ]
/eə/ square [ɛə], [ɛː][3]
/ɪ/ kit [ɪ]
/iː/ fleece, happy [iː](*)
/ɪə/ near [ɪə], [ɪː] [4]
/ɒ/ lot, cloth [ɒ]
/ɔː/ thought, north, force [ɔː]
/əʊ/ goat [əʊ]
/ʊ/ foot [ʊ]
/uː/ goose [uː]
/ʊə/ cure [ʊə], [ɔː][5]
/ʌ/ strut [ʌ]
/ɜː/ nurse [ɜː], [əː][3]
/ə/ comma, letter [ə]
/aɪ/ price [aɪ], [ʌɪ][3]
/aʊ/ mouth [aʊ]
/ɔɪ/ choice [ɔɪ]

(*) Words ending in unstressed /iː/ or /ɪ/ can sound either [iː] or [ɪ]. In Teflpedia we use /iː/ because this sound is more common.

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Received Pronunciation British Library
  2. Crystal, David The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language Page 365. "It is still the standard accent of the Royal Family, Parliament, the Church of England, the High court and other national institutions; but less than 3% of the British people speak it in a pure form now." ISBN 0 521 59655 6
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 IPA vowel symbols for British English in dictionaries
  4. Pétur Knútsson, ENS101G Phonetics I, Autumn 2008, English Centring Diphthongs - newer pronunciations
  5. Pétur Knútsson, ENS101G Phonetics I, Autumn 2008, English Diphthongs

See also[edit]