Received Pronunciation (RP) is a form of pronunciation of the English language, usually defined as the "educated spoken English of southeastern England". This is a prescriptivist point-of-view — it is quite possible for an intelligent, educated individual to use a non-standard dialect. 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 has been considered a mark of education by prescriptivists within Britain. As a result, elitist notions have sprung up around it, and those who use it have often considered those who do not to be less educated than themselves.
There is some truth in this, however, as historically most of the best educational institutions (Oxford, Cambridge, many public schools) were located in the south-east, so anybody who was educated there would pick up the accent of their peers.
However, from the 1970s onwards, attitudes towards Received Pronunciation have been slowly changing. Today, the accents of the English regions and of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are more likely to be considered to be on a par with Received Pronunciation. BBC reporters no longer need to, and often do not, use Received Pronunciation. Stereotypes outside the UK nevertheless persist.
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. 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
In general, the accent gives great importance to vowel sounds, which are extended and rounded.
In the following, SAMPA pronunciation is between square brackets, IPA is between slashes.
In RP, as for most English speakers, but not for speakers of some other English dialect:
- "Oh!" is pronounced as a diphthong [@U] /əʊ/, with a w sound to round off the word.
- "Room" is often (but not always) pronounced with a short vowel sound [ru:m, rUm] /ru:m, rʊm/.
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 and Australians 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" ["hEr@sI] /'hɛrəsɪ/ has a clear r consonant, but the word "hearsay" ["hI@sEI] /'hɪəsɛɪ/ 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 considered acceptable in RP, but by no means obligatory, that in an expression such as "law and order" there should be an r linking "law" and "and", making the final product sound like [lO:r@ndO:d@(r)] /lɔ:rəndɔ:də(r)/ when spoken. The final r here obviously depends on what follows.
There is a great number of distinct vowel sounds, for example "caught" [kO:t] /kɔ:t/, "cot" [kQt] /kɒt/, "cart" [kA:t] /kɑ:t/ are different in Received Pronunciation.
On the other hand, in common with most non-rhotic dialects "formerly" and "formally" ["fO:m@lI] /'fɔ:məlɪ/ are homophones in Received Pronunciation, although rhotic speakers pronounce the words differently from each other. Similarly "ion" and "iron".
Also the l in words ending in "lk" is not pronounced, so "stalk" and "stork" are homophones [stO:k] /stɔ:k/.
The a sound is particularly elongated, sounding like "ah", noted in the pronunciation of words such as "class" [klA:s] /klɑ:s/. It also drops the h from wh, pronouncing "Wales" and "whales" identically [wEIlz] /wɛɪlz/.
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