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Received Pronunciation

Received Pronunciation (RP) is a form of pronunciation of the English language, usually defined as the "educated spoken English of southeastern England". It is non-rhotic, meaning that written r is pronounced only if it is followed by a vowel.

Earlier Received Pronunciation was sometimes referred to as "BBC English" (as it was traditionally used by the BBC) and as "the Queen's English". Both terms remain 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", for the same reason.

Changing status of Received Pronunciation

Traditionally, Received Pronunciation is the accent of English which is considered a mark of an educated speaker, and which conveys no information about that speaker's region. For many years, the use of Received Pronunciation has been considered a mark of education by some 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.

The closest equivalent in the United States is the General American pronunciation. In general, US network broadcasters use the Standard Midwestern accent.

Speaking with Received Pronunciation

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

Some examples of the transformations of words when spoken with a received pronunciation are as follows:

  • "Oh!" is pronounced as a diphthong, with a w sound to round off the word.
  • "Room" is often pronounced with a short vowel sound.

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 let a t slip to a d (as Australians do), Received Pronunciation makes sure to enunciate every consonant properly, except for the r consonant, which is only enunciated at the end of syllables when linking with vowel sounds. This is true regardless of whether the syllable linking is intrinsic or extrinsic to a word. (E.g.: The word "heresy" has a clear r consonant, but the word "hearsay" does not. Similarly, "here we are" does not have either the r pronounced, but "here it is" has its single r clearly pronounced. Further, "law and order" has an r linking "law" and "and", making the final product sound somewhat like "lah-ran-dorder" when spoken.)

There is a greater number of distinct vowel sounds, for example "caught", "cot", "cart" are different in Received Pronunciation.

The a sound is particularly elongated, sounding like "ah", noted in the pronunciation of words such as "class". It also drops the h from wh, pronouncing "Wales" and "whales" identically.

See also

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