Wednesday, 19 October 2011

son of RP

Graciela María Martínez writes
I am a teacher of Phonetics and Phonology at a Teacher's Training College in Argentina and would very much like to ask you a question as regards a conclusion you wrote in the article ‘Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation’. You wrote “EFL teachers working within a British English-oriented environment should continue to use RP (though not necessarily under that name) as their pronunciation model. But this model must be revised and updated from time to time.”

My question is: What should we call that pronunciation model? Is there any new publication with revised and updated data on RP?

At UCL we sometimes referred to it (not altogether seriously) as “son of RP”.

Jack Windsor Lewis tried to popularize the term "General British", but it has not found wide acceptance. In our Practical Phonetics (1971) Greta Colson and I used the name "Southern British Standard". Given that RP is supposedly not localizable within England, this term relies on people’s appreciating that Southern British means ‘of southern Britain’, i.e. ‘of England, not Scotland’. (Technically and historically, North(ern) Britain is Scotland, while South(ern) Britain is England-and-Wales.) But I’m not so sure that everyone is mindful of the difference between Britain and England.

More recently the term "Standard Southern British English" (SSBE) has become popular. I noticed it quite a few times at the Hong Kong ICPhS two months ago.

Nevertheless, the name RP does have some traction among the general public. The OED cites the Independent newspaper in 2000:
The Bristol accent also defeated them. ‘What do you do when the fabric tears?’ asked a young boy, only to be met by total incomprehension until his enquiry was translated into received pronunciation.

There are two principal reasons why the name RP is not altogether satisfactory:
(i) it uses the term ‘received’ in a meaning that is now unusual, namely ‘accepted or considered to be correct by most people’. We do still speak of ‘received opinions’ and the ‘received wisdom’, but that’s about it.
(ii) the social landscape has changed out of all recognition since the term was first used (by Walker in 1774; by Ellis in 1869; by Jones in 1926).

I’ve pointed out elsewhere that there are various sets of criteria by which we might try to define RP: sociolinguistically, by examining the speech of the people at the top of the heap; ideologically, by reference to correctness or what is perceived as correct or desirable; and pedagogically, as a convenient codification of the pronunciation model we teach to BrE-oriented learners of EFL.

In LPD I claim that the model of BrE pronunciation that I record is “a modernized version of … RP”.
In England and Wales, RP is widely regarded as a model for correct pronunciation, particularly for educated formal speech. It is what was traditionally used by BBC news readers — hence the alternative name BBC pronunciation, although now that the BBC admits regional accents among its announcers this name has become less appropriate.

Others have other definitions, or use other terms. I’m sure readers have views on this.


  1. I interpreted the "Southern British" in "Southern British Standard" as referring to Southern England rather than all of England. Scotland would still be "Northern British" but Northern England would be "Central British".

    This interpretation was probably influenced by my (perhaps erroneous) impression that regional accent features in near-RP are more accepted or noticeable where the region is in Northern England than where it is in Southern England.

  2. I don't quite see the advantages of the other terms over RP. They might well make sense and all, but they're not as received as RP.

    (Also, "South(ern) British" is really ambiguous and I think many people either don't know what's meant or actually misunderstand it - is that England up to the River Tweed, or England and Wales, or the home counties, or the South of England, and are the Midlands in or out?)

    A new term is necessary if you choose to say, for instance, that General British is replacing RP, rather than describing the same differences as changes inside RP. Both approaches make sense to me, but I'm not sure they're always clearly separated. Would linguist X, who doesn't think RP was replaced by another accent and who's using the term SSBE use it when he talks about vowel qualities in 1890?

    The main argument for a new term is probably that society and insights have changed, as you write above. The issue is often that, luckily, one doesn't judge accents as before, so terms indicating RP is good, high, correct or the standard, clearly implying the others are bad, low or wrong &c., aren't well possible. At the core of this is whether a standard as such is morally bad, whatever you call it. I'm afraid euphemisms won't help, and while most languages have Standard XY for the register in question, I actually think 'received' is better: I feel it's more descriptive, while 'standard' is more prescriptive.

  3. @Lipman - you're right about the distiction between treating it as a new accent and saying that RP has changed.

    The historical facts probably lie somewhere in between the two viewpoints, but for my money the former model is more useful, since "old RP" still exists (at one end of a continuum).

    I think laypeople call it "South East (British) English", where South East is a widely-understood term referring to a region in the UK (the South East of England). This seems appropriate to me.

    I don't like the use of the term "standard" in the proposals above because to me it suggests a grammatical and lexical standard, whereas we're really only talking about pronunciation.

  4. It's difficult. The one term I've heard lately (in Cornwall from people complaining of non-Cornish accents on radio and the loss of the Cornish accent) is "Estuary English". How does that fit in with SSBE?

  5. I wonder what the transcription of that Bristol lad's sentence was.

  6. ...or simply the traslation into RP.

  7. This post should be titled Return of the can of worms...

    My two cents: As a linguist, I have nothing against the term “RP” in general (and thus agree with Lipman). RP is the type of pronunciation used, as JW said, at the top of the social “heap”. Thus, you would say, for example, that Prince Harry and Prince William speak modern RP, and the differences between them and the Queen are simply due to change within RP. But there are some obvious caveats; there are far more people at the top of the heap these days who have localisable accents... So, in a sense, this son-of-RP accent has become more localisable itself, and it’s localised to south-eastern England. But that’s all nuances that can be discussed in a class that deals with these kinds of things.

    I think there is more of a problem in the EFL industry. Firstly, there are still large numbers of teachers, both native and non-native, who understand RP to be the accent of 1950s BBC newsreels. Secondly, there are the silly comments you tend to hear from the media etc. to the effect that e.g. the princes (or any other public figure that would have spoken RP in the olden days -- take your pick) speak “Estuary”. Both are of course the result of “the general public” lacking a good understanding of language change. Not much can be done about it[*]. The thing is, we still need to function in this kind of environment. So, in practice, I tend to use “SSBE”, or “RP” with all kinds of disclaimers (e.g. “also known to some as RP”; “son-of-RP” will come in handy) to make it clear that I’m not talking of the type of RP that the students might have in their minds.

    [*] Well, there are people who believe that linguists are responsible for educating the public, such as Mark Liberman @ Language Log, and that we/they haven’t been doing a good job in this respect.

  8. One more thing and I’ll shut up (sorry for the length of this).

    In the latest edition of English phonetics and phonology, Peter Roach points out the paradox that most EFL learners are relatively young (in their early 20s), and a considerable proportion of EFL teachers are, let’s say, middle-aged. He says that this creates a mismatch in terms of the accents that are aimed for. Could be true, but there’s a second layer: many of the “middle-aged” teachers who are non-native speakers “sell” accents that are even anachronistic for themselves.

    Anecdote: In a lecture by a visiting professor, one of our students complained during the question time that he got mocked in England for speaking like a WWII Royal Navy admiral, and that the type of pronunciation he had been taught was inappropriate. Well spotted. Regrettably, many of the people who are responsible for this weren’t in the room...

    This is due to the understanding of “RP” (as described in textbooks that are not necessarily 100% up to date) as something that is set in stone. This is compounded by the use of recordings that are not 100% up to date, either.

    As a result, from a practical point of view and in this specific context, it makes perfect sense to refer to it using a qualified term, such as “contemporary RP”, or something else altogether. Unless you have the time to run a mini-course in language change.

  9. I've never seen what the big problem is with saying "BBC English". Most people gain their experience of this sort of accent from the BBC. I am aware that the BBC is more diverse in its presenters than it used to be, but I think that some people exaggerate this when they say that the BBC is full of regional accents. How many Brummies or Stokies present BBC News?

    I don't like definitions that privilege the upper-classes. Not only is this chauvinistic but I am not convinced that it's right. Do we really believe that all upper-class people speak the same? Do you remember the singer Dido? She went to Westminster School yet didn't sound RP in the slightest.

  10. "BBC English" is only one of several kinds of RP, and some time in the sixties or seventies, it really lost its etymology. (Remember how some years ago, a journalist was fired for sounding too "posh"?)

    What definitions privilege the upper classes?

  11. With my theatre students, I have tended to use the term "Contemporary RP" which then led me to begin to throw around the phrase "Classic RP" for comparisons. "Standard British" has been used in the States for quite some time as a typical name for RP, but perhaps it's coming into vogue as a reasonable generalization of what's happening now?

  12. @ Lipman: Reluctant as I am to disagree with the blogmaster, I'm not especially fond of the idea of U-RP. Why is it that an upper-class person's speech must automatically be awarded RP-status even if it is at odds with mainstream RP? I think that your example of an announcer's being sacked for sounding too posh is an interesting example. I have mentioned on this blog before how Brian Sewell's speech is heartedly mocked by most Brits, and you said that his speech is not the same as other U-RP speakers of his era. This shows how ex-public-schoolboys do not all speak the same and I don't think that they should all be squashed into the same box.

    I have always struggled with the notion of changes in RP. This seems vulnerable to "No True Scotsman" arguments such as the one here about the pronunciation of "gone". There is always somebody left who sticks to the old way of speaking. It seems much simpler to talk about changes in BBC English.

  13. ^ I meant to write "off" rather than "gone" for the link. Sorry!

  14. I'm vexed to say that like mollymooly I thought SBE and SSBE were terms that not only implied a shift from the non-localizable concept of RP, which they do, but a claim to a deeper Southernness than they are intended to.

    I'm also in total agreement with the points made by Lipman Pete and Wjarek on this.

    I don't think it helps to say «(Technically and historically, North(ern) Britain is Scotland, while South(ern) Britain is England-and-Wales.) But I’m not so sure that everyone is mindful of the difference between Britain and England.»

    The technicality seems marginal and the historicality gratuitously historical: a search of Onelook's vast database for online dictionaries and all the other ones I can access only reveals three with entries for 'South Britain' and one for 'Southern Britain' in Wikipedia, which redirects the search to 'South Britain'. Substituting 'British' is worse. Only 'South British' is to be found, and that too redirects to the Wikipedia article:, where we see «South Britain is a term which was occasionally used in the 17th and 18th centuries, for England and Wales in relation to their position in the southern half of the island of Great Britain. It was used mainly by Scottish writers, in apposition [sic] to the term "North Britain", which generally referred to Scotland.»

    Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia® Copyright © 2007 has no entry for 'South Britain' and redirects the search to 'England' only.

    You say the name RP is not altogether satisfactory because

    «(i) it uses the term ‘received’ in a meaning that is now unusual»

    Lexicalized collocations often do, for the same sort of diachronic linguistic and extralinguistic reasons as this, and as you say RP does have some traction among the general public. It's less misleading and I'm sure it's better understood and accepted, precisely because the meaning ‘accepted or considered to be correct by most people’ is not exactly current on the strength of the survival of the more obviously analyzable collocations you mention.

  15. Gimson had the right idea with Advanced RP, and we have Old RP, U-RP, near-RP, General RP etc to fall back on. If there is ever any significant objection to such tweakings of the overall concept, what is wrong with the Queen's (King's) English?

    You say the Queen's English is RP by definition, but I see, however annoyingly, that Collins defines both RP and 'queen's English' (when the British sovereign is female) as "standard Southern British English"!

    Now it may be invidious to anti-monarchists and non-Brits to define it as any sort of British English at all (some American dictionaries don’t even seem to think it has to be British: "standard, pure, or correct English speech or usage", "English speech or usage that is considered standard or accepted; Received Standard English"), but surely we can steer some sort of middle course through all that? However, Received Pronunciation (RP) is often implied, and both that and standard British English are in point of fact very much more in evidence in the south of England.

    But "the king's English" appeared in Wilson's Arte of Rhetoricke, in 1553 and Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, in about 1597, and apparently it was in common use before that, and I suspect it was used to mean little more than the English of the realm. Moreover as to accent, it can’t have had much to do with the accents of some of those Dutch and German incumbents of the monarchy, and I don’t think it will have much to do with the accent of the present incumbent (for all its indisputable de-plummification) once QE/KE has moved on from SBE and left RP even further behind.

    And I don't think Lord Reith either would have been happy with Collins's as a definition of what he required BBC pronunciation to be, and it was pretty much RP as then constituted that came to be known as 'BBC English'. So it might only be 'BBC English' that we have to drop. Lord Reith himself had a Scottish accent, so I don’t suppose it was that he had an axe to grind. He probably thought he had good reason to try to achieve the near-universal recognition and acceptance achieved by RADA for the gross parody of RP they required of all their students, which you would have thought would have alienated the cinema-going public over that entire period. But they lapped it up. Everyone who sees those old films now must find that hard to believe.

    Of course I carry a torch for my own RP. I sometimes liken the sentiment to the understandable vexation of the denizens of the old Imperial capital of Kyoto at the hegemony established by the upstart Tokyo dialect, which from time immemorial they have been on record as considering the ultimate in barbarity. But RP is a back number, even in these islands, and even the BBC World Service laid down the melancholy burden of broadcasting lessons in HMQ’s version of it. American East Coast standard will make this whole debate history.

    I suppose the association between RP and standard English of any sort must have originate from a form of Southern English English the first place, namely the form ME took in the Home Counties. But yes, it is regrettable that these terms SBE and SSBE give the impression of something a bit more reminiscent of Sybil Fawlty. This character is played by Prunella Scales, who herself calls it something facetious obviously based on these terms, I think "Southern Boarding-house English". And even geographically speaking they're regrettable as they risk being understood as including the dialects of Bristol, Somerset and points west.

  16. Ed,

    of course, there should be a good non-circular definition of the pronunciation in question, and simply saying that it is the pronunciation of everybody who went to a public school and only of these is obviously not good. (I don't think anybody would seriously give such a definition.) In this regard, the idea of "BBC English" might make more sense, and you'd simply note down what (on earth) Lord Reith had in mind in a given case. That would be a prescriptive ideal with zero native speakers, though.

    I think it makes a lot of sense to allow for a number of subtypes, in fact, if you're very strict about this, you'll end up with an idiolect, or actually only with the language of a synthetic speech generator. The borders of the whole are certainly fuzzy, simply because there is, after all, a continuum.

  17. I don't know, but every time a discussion like this appears, I have a feeling how today RP, the older version, is somehow demonized: God forbid someone talked like, I don't know, Edith Evans or Brian Sewell or David Starkey. Almost a kind of discrimination and I do not understand it. For example, I've just bumped onto an article about Fiona Bruce's documentary on the Queen's palaces. What do I find? An outpour of hate towards her pronunciation.

    Upper Reveived Pronunciation (not the one Fiona speaks in) is an accent just like any other, people are free to choose which one they prefer to reproduce and immitate. Or at least they should be.

  18. mallamb, I would like to know two things: what is the difference between URP and Old RP and where on Earth can I hear that gross exaggeration and parody of RP RADA was supposed to have taught?

    In any case, such a parody doesn't exist any more. You only need to watch Downton Abbey to see how non-existent it is and how people in (post-)Edwardian England actually spoke today's mainstream RP. Downton Abbey is full of inaccuracies and this one is one of the quite audible ones.

  19. Well, there is always somebody left -- until they are all dead. There are still New Yorkers with the PRICE-CHOICE merger, but most of them are over sixty, and in another generation we can expect that that merger will be as extinct as START-TERM is today. That won't mean that the New York accent is extinct, just that it no longer includes that particular [pʰɪˈtʰɪkʲələ] feature.

    Of course, AmE has nothing like RP: at most, we have localized accents used for non-localized purposes, like etiolated Californian for TV announcers and Inland South for country singers.

  20. Even the START-TERM merger still hangs on, just about anyway. Pronunciations such as 'sartinly', 'clargy' and 'sarch' can still be heard in County Tyrone in the speech of older rural speakers (and I remember many more such cases from old folk when I was growing up, e.g. 'marciful', 'narves', 'sarve', 'sarvint'). And I've occasionally heard it in conversational speech in Tyneside and Northumberland in the last couple of decades, and not always from old people, e.g. 'sarved my time' and 'bord resarve' (='bird reserve').

  21. The Duchesse was right to point out how absurd and offensive the modern discrimination and ridicule directed against RP speakers is. I am not one myself - I speak a rather boring SSBE - but I find RP rather attractive. I also like the Brummy accent, which is even more stigmatised.

    On another subject, I'd welcome a note from our host on modern BBC English. Listening to Radio 4, I get the distinct impression that an order has gone out (or perhaps a fashion that has the force of an order) to speak standard Southern British English, perhaps with a slight regional flavour, but always to use the short northern pronunciation of the a in 'bath', 'half', 'past' etc. Perhaps the long a is dying even in the south and the BBC is part of that trend?

  22. Graham, no such order has gone out. The BBC doesn't issue that kind of order, anyway. I think it may often be a case of presenters/contributors from the midlands or north, who speak or have acquired near-RP, with the appropriate sound qualities for their vowels, but retain this lexical choice. See my Accents of English, p. 300: "Nowadays this [i.e. the TRAP vowel in BATH words] is a characteristic of the Near-RP (and the non-RP) of the midlands and north of England". I wrote these words 30 years ago: don't get trapped in the "recency illusion".

  23. Duchesse,

    I too would like to know more or less the same two things: the difference between URP and Old RP, which would take a lot of knowing, but I know it when I hear it, and whether the parodic RP was in fact taught at RADA.

    All I said was that I supposed that Lord Reith's motivation for his dogged insistence when he was Director-General of the BBC (1927-38) on the (non-parodic) RP of the period for 'BBC English' was probably that he thought he had good reason to try to achieve the near-universal recognition and acceptance achieved by RADA for the gross parody of RP they required of all their students, not to promote the parody itself.

    And of course such a parody doesn't exist any more. That may well have to do with the improved teaching methods and aids that are now obviously available, as well as the change of attitudes and expectations. So you're right about Downton Abbey – the only thing it's a parody of is itself. And even the audible anachronisms are by no means all to do with pronunciation. But an attempted reconstruction of (post-)Edwardian pronunciation would no doubt sound even more parodic, as well as being inappropriate and impractical.

    John C,

    I like your [pʰɪˈtʰɪkʲələ]. Almost as RP-able as [ˈpʰtʰɪkʲələ].

  24. Gentlemen, in a generation's time or so (People's Republic's) Chinese (putonghua) will the world language _tout court_, and all of the above terminological soul-searching will be most obsolete and if anyone still remembers it by then, it will be only to mock it. 'In th'olden days', they will say in their pithy putonghua 'there was a language that imagined to be a world language and whose benighted speakers did not even know how to call its pronunciation standard, har har har' (or howe'er you say that in putonghua).

    Just think of the condescension with which we now look at Academie Francaise's regulations banning franglaise, for instance, or what not --- that is, if we notice that institution and its desperate, doomed-to-failure efforts at all. And yet, still like 150 years ago French was what English is now. Sic transit.... Sic et transibit...

  25. Sorry to stray off topic here, but I don't think the biggest problem EFL industry faces when it comes to the pronunciation is the outdatedness of its RP model (the egregiousness of which of course varies from country to country and from institution to institution).

    Rather, what is a far more pressing problem, at least in my experience, is the fact that the vast majority of English most students hear is some form of American English. So they have British norms taught to them explicitly, all the while acquiring American norms unconsciously. In the end most of them end up with accents that are about equally influenced by RP, GenAm and their L1 phonology. The best ones eliminate the latter, but still speak with a mish-mash of the former two.
    Not that that's such a tragic outcome...

  26. I do think of "Southern British" as referring to southern England, but then I suspect that, among younger generations at least, people from northern England aren't that much more likely to speak RP/SSBE than Scots (at least if TRAP=BATH is regarded as disqualifying an accent as RP/SSBE) so I don't really see that as a problem.

    Personally I would prefer to see the development of a broader model than "RP" has traditionally referred to, maybe along the lines of Clive Upton's or even going a bit further, and "General British" might be an appropriate name for that.

  27. I've just noticed that the Isle of Man seems to have been annexed by England on the map. Are there many RP speakers there?

    @ Lipman: Peter Roach uses the notion of "BBC English" in his EPD; he defines it as the typical accent of newsreaders on BBC1 and 2, Radios 3 and 4, and the World Service. There is some variation in these media but no more than in the vernacular of any city. This is the definition I favour.

    Following on from the exchange between Graham and John, I am willing to bet that there is at least one landed aristocrat somewhere in the country who says [a] in BATH. Would s/he count as a U-RP speaker?

  28. @gassalascajape: I wouldn’t say that’s a “tragic” outcome. It’s a natural outcome for those who do get taught some kind of “British” English in institutional settings. Many learners, especially outside Europe, are taught “American” English to start with. However, if you do end up with some sort of a mix, it makes better sense to have more or less contemporary unmarked accents as the ingredients.

    BTW, Br+Am+L1 is what Jenkins’s Lingua Franca Core enterprise boils down to. In a sense.

    (I failed to mention that my “specific context” was an English dep at a university. Those people are expected to be considerably more consistent in their pronunciation than your normal EFL learner, because they are supposed to be professional users of the language.)

  29. In my observation here in Poland most university students---and not just them, I think most of our English learners in their twenties-thirties---know and use some kind of American-ish English, for instance they are consistently rhotic. On the other hand, they don't say 'gart' for 'got' or 'erparn' for 'upon' or 'noo' for 'new', or 'doody' for 'duty' or such... still less do they say 'mairn' for 'man' or 'druss' for 'dress'; for TRAP they use either DRESS or (don't expect consistency) ä, which is our Polish 'a'. They latter they consistently use for STRUT, too. In other ways, they are rather sordda Mid-Atlantic, or even Mid-Northern-Southern-Hemisphere, which is perhaps whither various second-language non-native Englishes are drifting. So great many problems you've been discussing here: Southern British or Central British and such-like would be terribly provincial to them.

  30. "Nowadays this [i.e. the TRAP vowel in BATH words] is a characteristic of the Near-RP (and the non-RP) of the midlands and north of England". I wrote these words 30 years ago: don't get trapped in the "recency illusion".

    I grew up in the midlands of England (specifically Nottingham) consistently making the TRAP-BATH distinction that I rarely heard around me. Phonologically I'm firmly on the RP side of the divide and most of my life — especially as an English teacher — I've considered myself an RP speaker. Certainly, I though I spoke RP thirty years ago — but as for recency I'm not so sure. I don't think it an illusion that something has changed, and not necessarily my actual accent or my capacity for self-diagnosis.

    My TRAP vowel, and some other sounds don't quite equate to the phonetic values which traditionally enjoy the highest prestige — surely the only objective meaning of 'received'. I used to see this as minor variation within RP. Now it feels more like 'near-RP'.

    The Evolving English exhibition last year included archive recordings of phoneticians of the past discussing RP as a broadcasting and teaching standard. I was shocked — not at the old-fashioned character, which was only to be expected, but at the narrowness of prescription.

    My impression is that a large number of people with interest in language but without training now use the term RP rather than BBC English or Queen's English or Oxford English, and that they use it in the narrow prescriptive sense of those old phoneticians.

    There was not so long ago a BBC Message Board based on Word of Mouth where non-specialists could discuss such things. During a crisis concerning BBC Message Boards in general, my views were broadcast (briefly) on Point of View. One of the MB regulars, a Scot living in Lancashire, identified my accent as 'educated but not RP'. What he meant, I think, is that I didn't sound as if I was
    • British boarding-school educated
    • living in the south of England (or overseas as an expat)

    An inescapable problem is that approximation to RP is partly a social dimension and partly a geographical one. The further you live from the South East, the more the significant the social dimension. Add to this the time dimension; the younger you are, the weaker the pull along the social dimension.

    It seems to me that me there are prototype RP accents to which many 'educated' accents, including mine, approximate. Some prototypes are old-fashioned — captured in recordings or preserved by conservative speakers. Contemporary and recent prototypes are markers of southern English, public school background, eschewed by the sort of speaker from another background that would have mastered them in previous generations. The hostility to 'speaking posh' is nothing new, but it's hugely more widespread than it used to be.

    It's straightfowrward to describe and define a prototype accent typical of a certain period. But how much can an accent deviate from the prototype and still be considered RP?

    Whatever term is used, I would like one that refers to a prototype and another that refers to close variations around and including the prototype. I used to think that RP would do for the latter, but I fear the term has escaped into general use and now means 'posh'.

    I don't think it matters if Graciela María Martínez calls her target RP. What matters is that she refers to a broad target as defined by contemporary phoneticians rather than the very narrow target that so many native speakers now reject.

  31. Correction (no that it matters)

    For 'Points of View' read 'Feedback'. The difference is meaningless to people outside Britain, anyway.

  32. Duchesse,

    I too would like to know more or less the same two things: the difference between URP and Old RP, which would take a lot of knowing, but I know it when I hear it, and whether the parodic RP was in fact taught at RADA.

    I am a tiny bit disappointed: I too know it when I hear it, but was expecting you to explicitly state the differences. That leaves me hoping that one day someone will publish a book of historical and/or comparative phonology dedicated solely to those two kinds of Received Pronunciation. Or a PhD thesis or a series of articles or something.

    I do have to ask, though, how do you know RADA taught parody RP? If you do know it. It seems like you did, but then don't know it in your reply to me. In any case, if you ever bump onto a proof or a film or a TV series featuring RADA alumns with parody accents, I would appreciate it if you let me know.

    It's kind of fun that, again, I find negative comments, to put it that way, about RP in this very moment: this time Joanna Lumley, the "be-sandalled aristo@ in her Greek Odyssey "wafts like toothy mistral over Hellenic remit, smothering facts/fancies beneath pashmina of yawn", a really interesting way of putting it.

    Though, there are still people, as also evidenced in these comments, who wish people "talked properly", as Alec Douglas-hjuːm does in this video (one of the comments).

  33. I agree that sir Alec's English pronunciation is admirable, not just pronunciation but also his style and such, but I must sadly say---praeterea censeo---that (next to) no-one in any non-Anglophone country I've ever been to is taught to speak like that. Least of all to flap their intervocalic r's, which I was taught in my youth in Poland decades ago---something Mr Wells disadvices us from/against doing, and something sir Alec occasionally does if my ear doesn't deceive me. The English-as-actually-taught has shorter sentences, not so well-balanced, self-mastery-witnessing intonation, another choice of words... not to mention the contents of what our youngsters are taught to say. Maybe I have never been in a really 'polite company' (it is to be hoped).

    Hume the philosopher had spelt, I was taught, his name 'Home' until he realised that it was systematically mispronounced in England, whereupon he changed it to 'Hume'. I do not know if this be true; I read such somewhere.

  34. Concerning the Old RP/U-RP distinction, could this be considered a worthwhile illustration:

    (Graves being the former, and Muggeridge the latter)

    P.S. Graves was born in 1895, Muggeridge in 1903.

  35. I think of Graves's accent as old-fashioned Anglo-Irish. Am I wrong?

  36. You can better hear Graves's accent in this reading of his poem:

    I don't detect anything Irish about it, I must confess. Graves was born in England, and educated in English public schools. His Irish father probably did have and Anglo-Irish accent, but I don't think we have any recordings of him speaking...

  37. Mallamb

    ... the near-universal recognition and acceptance achieved by RADA for the gross parody of RP they required of all their students ...

    Gimson had the right idea with Advanced RP, and we have Old RP, U-RP, near-RP, General RP etc to fall back on

    I've always regarded a RADA accent as a toning down of a certain form of RP, not an exaggeration. And I've always equated Gimson's 'Advanced RP' with a cul de sac from which the mainstream of RP speakers retreated. Newly-crowned Queen's English, as it were — very different from the way Her Majesty speaks now. The accents which now sound so strange in old films seem to me products of their time, not a reflection of their training.

    For example, I suggest that the protagonists in the film Brief Encounters speak with a toned-down version of the Advanced RP of its author Noel Coward. It's a wonderful contrast with the pronunciation of same two actors in the much later film of Staying On.

    (Another possibility, perhaps what you call a RADA parody is simply the sound of speakers who were less confident in the accent than the speakers they copied.).

    When people use terms like U-RP and Old RP, I can make them correspond to some categories that I have in mind, but I'm not at all condiment that their categories are the same as mine. I suspect yours and mine are very different indeed. Could you give some examples of actual speakers?

  38. gassalascajape

    Thanks for that link. Yes, in that reading he sounds entirely English. My memory is of him speaking extempore between performing songs. Perhaps the Irishness of the songs brought out qualities in his accent that he usually downplayed.

    I only heard him once and briefly, but it isn't something you forget.

  39. gassalascajape

    I should have said that I equated his accent with that of a great aunt of mine, or rather her friends in the remnants of the old Irish landed gentry into which she had married — actual to a distant cousin of Robert Graves. It could have been false recognition, but that's how it sounded at the time.

  40. I'm not at all condiment...

    That wretchedly wilful spellchecker!

    I'm not at all confident that their categories are the same as mine

  41. Wojcieh,

    no-one in any non-Anglophone country I've ever been to is taught to speak like that

    You are, of course, correct. Someone above mentioned it: students are taught British English, almost always from textbooks by British publishers, of course, but considered their tastes in music and films, they switch from British to American on a platform of their native language. You end up with a concoction one of Stephen Fry's interviewees in his 5-part documentary Fry's Planet World now on BBC called globish.


    try with Vita Sackville-West,

    who is mentioned by Brian Sewell as an influence as far as the pronunciation goes:

  42. Duchesse

    It's kind of fun that, again, I find negative comments, to put it that way, about RP in this very moment: this time Joanna Lumley, the "be-sandalled aristo" in her Greek Odyssey

    Surely Joanna's accent is almost entirely the product of her upbringing as the daughter of a British officer in the Gurkhas, and hardly at all the result of her training as an actress. The only effect her career may have had is to dissuade her from modifying the accent.

  43. When I took English phonetics, I was taught that received as in RP meant that the pronunciation was learned - at public schools - not native. Maybe that's irrelevant now. I would like to know what terms to use to distinguish between so-called Oxford English and more regular standard southern pronunciation. By Oxford English, I mean the kind of pronunciation that make you sound like a Wodehouse character. Unfortunately, many foreign learners, at least in Sweden, try to copy that - but it sounds ridiculous. You have to be born to it.

  44. Surely Joanna's accent is almost entirely the product of her upbringing as the daughter of a British officer in the Gurkhas, and hardly at all the result of her training as an actress. The only effect her career may have had is to dissuade her from modifying the accent.

    Oh, I wasn't stating anything about that. I just had the impression that calling her a "toothy mistral" who "wafts" isn't really a compliment. Had she spoken in Geordie, it would've gone unnoticed. Perhaps my interpretation is wrong.

    That said, I think you are right.

    I wonder if mallamb would call Clarissa and Jennifer old or upper. I think they're upper, with Jennifer having a remnant or two of the old. But then again, Clarissa's æ is a bit suspect.

  45. Duchesse

    Upper Reveived Pronunciation (not the one Fiona speaks in) is an accent just like any other, people are free to choose which one they prefer to reproduce and immitate.

    Yes, but they should do so in the knowledge
    — that it has always been hated by a small number as an index of 'upper class' and whatever that meant to the hearer
    — and that the number has grown substantially in recent years.

    Very broadly, I see it like this:
    • Past generation switched to RP as a positive choice — my mother even paid money to be taught.
    • Slightly later generations felt pressure to switch, which some resisted.
    • More recent generations are in many cases hostile to the idea of switching accent, and transfer that hostility to RP in general and to those who speak it naturally.

  46. Sorry to disturb you but I would like to ask Duchesse de Guermantes: What would be your reaction to a foreign learner speaking English with an accent (just pronunciation, not grammar or vocabulary) like that of Alec Guinness?
    I am being absolutely serious.

  47. @ David Crosbie: It has to be remembered that, in days gone by, the working-classes spoke in dialects that were barely mutually intelligible across the country. I imagine that educated people felt a practical need to learn RP back then, as they wanted to talk to people from all over Britain. That has all changed now: dialect is dead in most places (not all). As most people speak a comprehensible form, there's not as much benefit in changing your pronunciation.

  48. When I took English phonetics, I was taught that received as in RP meant that the pronunciation was learned - at public schools - not native.

    Two points:
    -- people who went to public schools very often had fathers who had also gone to public schools
    -- The age at which one attended a public school would generally intersect with the critical age for accent learning.

  49. vp

    Two points:
    -- My father had a father who did not go to boarding school and who spoke with a middle-class London accent.
    -- The age at which he attended boarding school was several years after the critical age you speak of.

    Another point:
    Many young people acquired RP not at boarding school but at university.

  50. Ed

    I imagine that educated people felt a practical need to learn RP back then, as they wanted to talk to people from all over Britain.

    Middle class non-RP accents were widely understood all over Britain. The motivation for changing to RP was purely social. And it wasn't just because of education. It was my mother's lack of education that closed the work market to her. So she paid for elocution lessons and got much better paid employment. Only one of her brothers and sisters got to university. Two sisters died in the Blitz but the rest of my uncles and aunts were perfectly intelligible anywhere, despite a middle-class Swansea accent. I presume my university-educated uncle made a conscious choice to retain his accent.

  51. M.A.L. Lamb: The King's English is now fully lexicalized in AmE irrespective of who sits on the ancient Throne of Britain, and primarily refers to clarity. "Don't you understand the King's English?" means "Don't you understand what I am plainly saying to you?"