The RP English Accent – What is it, how does it sound, and who uses it?


Hi there. I'm going to be talking to you today about Received Pronunciation, often shortened

to "RP", which is an accent of Great Britain, probably most widely taught as the accent

that you're meant to learn in language schools around the world. So I'm going to be talking

about the relevance, the place of RP who actually speaks with an RP accent in Britain.

Okay, so RP is defined as the regionally neutral middle-class accent of England. Regionally

neutral. What that means is by hearing this accent I don't know where in the UK the speaker

is from. So they might be from Devon, Wales, London, Yorkshire, anywhere. This accent is

not from a particular place. Now, it has also been called over the last 50-100 years the

Queen's English because people assume that the Queen speaks with Received Pronunciation.

She actually doesn't. The Queen speaks in a very unique accent, which differs from Received

Pronunciation. She has a very smart accent. It's not quite the same.

BBC English, yes there did used to be a time when most of the news presenters on the BBC

were required to have a Received Pronunciation accent, but now society has changed and it

is more inclusive, so people from different parts of the United Kingdom, people who have

gone to less privileged schools are able to get jobs in the BBC and all other sectors

and industries.

It's also referred to as Oxford English. So there was a time 30-40 years ago when all

the professors at Oxford and when all the students at Oxford and Cambridge would speak

with RP. But again, that's changed and there is a drive in schools to try and get the best

school... The best students from the government schools into these top universities.

What is it, Benjamin? It's an accent. Okay? It's used with Standard English. So if someone

is using a lot of slang, a lot of abbreviation, mixing where their words are from, from rap

music and stuff, that wouldn't be Standard English. It avoids slang and dialect. Dialect

is the language particular to a certain place. For example, a West Country dialect would

be particular words from that place.

This accent reveals, shows someone's background. Okay? So it shows what kind of life they have

had so far. It doesn't show where they are from in the United Kingdom. In fact, only

2 to 3% of the UK population have this accent. You might be wondering: "Do you have this

accent, Benjamin?" and the answer to that is: To some degree, but not entirely. So my

accent has influences from some Estuary English, and it sort of depends who I am speaking to

as to how... How my accent is placed. I'm from Devon and sometimes I will veer towards

a Devonian sound, but most of the time I will sound like someone from the southeast of England

because that is where I have lived most.

So, a history of this accent. In the... Up until the 20th century this accent was associated

with wealth and power, but then after World War II society changed in the United Kingdom.

We had a Labour Government for the first time, the NHS was created, and people started getting

different types of jobs. They started getting better jobs, you started getting a mix of

people. And with that, regional accents have become more important. In fact, some people

like to disguise an RP accent, so they'll start trying to speak a little bit like this,

and start dropping their t's, and say: "Lil" and "innit" and stuff. I'm exaggerating, but

it does have negative connotations, the RP accent so some people try to change their

voice to fit in.

Still not sure what it is? Well, it's speaking in clipped, precise tones. Okay? It sounds

quite a sort of serious accent. Maybe some people feel that it sounds quite cold.

How has it evolved? It's not the same accent, Received Pronunciation, that it was a hundred

years ago. Okay? The accent changes, just as an accent from Yorkshire, or from Wales,

and Ireland will change over time. It's not a fixed: This is the accent.

How it's been changed recently? The long vowel sounds have become shortened. Why is that?

To... As a feeling of self-protection. You don't want to expose yourself by speaking

in this ridiculous manner. So, a diphthong which is a double vowel sound, for example:

"poo-er" would now be pronounced: "poor". A poor person rather than a poo-er person.

"Come here" rather than: "Come heeere", "here", "here". Okay? So these diphthongs are being

shortened. It's now a flatter accent in its pronunciation.

Who speaks with an RP accent? Prince Charles with a traditional RP accent, an old-fashioned

one. His daughter-in-law, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. Whereas... So she has come from

a different background to her husband, Prince William, but she's really taken on this sort

of traditional accent in the way she speaks, whereas William, and... Prince William and

Prince Harry who come from the most privileged backgrounds slightly disguise the way they

speak by flattening some of their vowel sounds. You'll also hear this accent from Jeremy Paxman

who is wonderful to listen to, a highly-intelligent man; Joanna Lumley, another wonderful TV presenter

who makes fascinating travel documentaries; and Boris Johnson, make of him what you will.

So, how do we know...? I just want to give you a couple more examples of these diphthongs

so you can start to tell whether it's a modern RP accent or an old one. Remember the old

one takes that double vowel sound. So if you ask for a glass of beer, that would be modern,

whereas the old-fashioned would be a "be-er, "be-er, please". If something is near, near.

Is it near? Is the shop near? Okay? That's the modern sound. "Nee-uh", "Is it Nee-uh?"

Okay? It's a slightly more formal sound. It's more sort of, I don't know, up to you how

you find it. If something is "eweld", "eweld", okay, that's the traditional way, as opposed

to if something is "old". So it's more natural, the modern way.

So, let's put this accent in its place. Yeah? Remember 2% of the United Kingdom. Most people

speak more with the regional accent. Okay? The north of England, the Midlands, and it

has very much become a part... An accent of England. You go to Wales, you go to Scotland,

you go to Ireland - you're not going to hear RP. People take more pride in their accent

from where they are from.

I hope this has been informative for you. So why not now start watching some British

television? Can you start to place...? Can you hear this accent at all? How are people

talking, and what does it show about them? Thank you. See you next time.