English phoneticians have not infrequently been in implicit disagreement over the problem of the circumscription of RP ... Windsor Lewis (mimeo) has conveniently summarized a number of writers' views over the last century; he himself argues for a term General British .... The mimeo which Wells referred to was a form (which regrettably had come into his hands undated) of a paper which had been originally produced for circulation among students of phonetics at Leeds University. It arose out of an attempt to challenge the then seemingly universally approved writings on the subject by the late David Abercrombie. A version of it appeared in print as Windsor Lewis 1985 especially directed to the interests of EFL teachers. For those not necessarily having EFL interests but who might like to have convenient access to the contents of the summary mentioned by Wells I append now a re-shaping (with EFL content omitted) of its original version incorporating various clarificatory re-wordings but omitting little or nothing of the matter to which Wells referred.
a rather small minority(Jones 1917 p. ix) of speakers in whose speech no features can be readily observed (even by experts in such matters) which suggest affiliation with any particular region. Such a phenomenon is well known in a number of countries, especially smaller ones with easy communications with their capital. This is so of the Scandinavian countries, as Jespersen 1890 suggested of Denmark even in the nineteenth century. The type of pronunciation one might call Metropolitan French is far from limited to the immediate Paris area. In the USA and Canada the type of accent known loosely as General American is spoken over the largest part of the north of the American continent with mainly very few and then very widely distributed sub-features.
educatedwas no doubt a reasonable label but today a very large majority of the most highly educated inhabitants of Great Britain have markedly regionally-affiliated speech.
cultivated, or rather
centralpronunciation of any language, as distinct from the
local. In his magnum opus Early English Pronunciation (1869-1889) he contrasted his day when one could
recognise a received pronunciation all over the countrywith earlier periods when one could not so fittingly refer to such a
general English pronunciation. He frequently used the term
received, applying it on occasion to varieties of American and Irish pronunciation etc (Volume IV title page) and to other languages (p. 1279) and, though favouring it most often, interchanging it with
educated(eg p. 1085). He avowedly avoided the term
standard(p. 1089 etc). Only in one or two places does he employ a capitalised form Received Pronunciation. The expression
receivedwas frequently employed by him, but in nearly all occurrences obviously merely as a convenient epithet among others, in the sense
recognisedto refer to a fact of existence in Victorian England perfectly familiar to his fellow countrymen of the day. Even when he chose to save space, in Volume V, by abbreviating references to this type of pronunciation he uses the lower-case letters
rpglossing them as
received pronunciation or that of pronouncing dictionaries and educated people. He used parallel abbreviations for
received speech(in reference to grammatical etc features) and
received orthography. Jones used
Receivedin other collocations than with
Pronunciationfrom time to time, at least in his Outline of English Phonetics but no other British linguistician did so after Wyld.
receivedhad already become rather old-fashioned in the latter part of the nineteenth century: it is now virtually obsolete outside of the usage of some British phoneticians in a single expression and of those wishing to suggest a direct explicit parallel to the usage
RP. Ellis's associates and pupils such as Henry Sweet and J. A. H. Murray never so used it. Nor unless in effect quoting Ellis did Otto Jespersen or Joseph Wright or Walter Skeat or any other of Sweet's important contemporaries. Before Ellis writers may be found who occasionally employ the word
receivedin the course of discussing types of English accent. Walker 1791 refers to London pronunciation as being
more generally receivedthan other types (p. 11) but comes even less near than Ellis does to setting up an institutionalised regular label
standardand in that year the first edition of his English Pronouncing Dictionary offered Public School Pronunciation by way not merely of identification but of setting up an institutionalised classificatory term given with initial capitals and frequently abbreviated to
PSP. This was in spite of the fact that the first two editions of the Jones Outline of English Phonetics refer (footnote p. 4) to two articles by Henry Cecil Wyld of 1913 and 1914 in the journal Modern Language Teaching. In the third edition (1932 para.62) these references were dropped but the comment was made
The term Received Pronunciation has been suggested for the type of pronunciation described in this book. This term is adopted here for want of a better. It is not completely clear whether Jones is referring to Wyld 1913 or to his own move in 1926 in the second edition of his English Pronouncing Dictionary in which, of its pronunciation, he says (p. viii)
I call it Received Pronunciation (abbreviation RP), for want of a better term. I wish it to be clearly understood, however, that RP means [sic] widely understood pronunciation .... (This curiously clumsy addition has led one Continental scholar to gloss the word
widely understood!) In respect of defining RP
widely understoodwas and is an absurdity. Such a description is no less applicable to the English of the relatively highly educated classes in almost any part of the English-speaking world. Cf Firth 1937 p. 17 and Abercrombie 1951 p.13.
PSPwas even left unchanged in the Explanations section of that Third Edition. He may well have been influenced by the fact that Harold Palmer, the only other considerable writer on British Pronunciation of Jones's generation not continuing to use the label Standard Pronunciation, had declared in favour of the Wyld 1913 proposal of the term Received Standard rather than adopting Jones's PSP. Jones knew Palmer, who made a very remarkable contribution to English language studies, and held him in high esteem. Jones's friend and supporter Walter Ripman (1914/1933 para.4.7) used
really good speech! Jones's colleague and contemporary Lloyd James did not adopt
PSP(or Wyld's proposal either).
proposed new terminologyof Received Standard implying but not explicitly conveying reference to pronunciation alone and the shorter more explicit adaptation of it by revival of Ellis's favourite term. Jones very sensibly never had truck with Wyld's full expression which awkwardly combined pleonasm with a degree of obscurity but it is very doubtful that he would have resorted to such an undesirably archaic leave alone sociologically question-begging term had it not been for Wyld. Henry Cecil Wyld was a great scholar but an unremarkable phonetician and staggeringly reactionary in his social outlook. The superciliousness of his attitude to the speech of
an enormous proportion ... of highly educated persons(1914:105) living in London including that of families
whose young men frequented one of the great public schools in or nearthat city (1913:254) could not possibly be caricatured. Sociological comment on the varieties of spoken English was a hobby-horse of Wyld's and his stance was preposterously disdainful. He saw society as consisting of the gentry and the peasantry in watertight compartments and clearly resented any muddying of the distinction between them. Jones's favourable reference to the
ablearticles by Wyld of 1913 and 1914 and his removal of reference to them in the third (1932) edition of the Outline of English Phonetics seems to have marked a very considerable change of outlook.
English Accentsthe purpose of which was to draw the attention of the EFL user
to the different ways in which native speakers of English pronounce their mother tongue, and the status [of] these varieties of pronunciation ... a topic ... encumbered with misconceptions and confusions.
RP and Local Accent(1951/1965), the picture it presented of the views of educated Englishmen had become appropriate to only a relatively insignificant minority. The reference to the term accent as in its popular use carrying a
stigmahad become quite inappropriate. It can no longer be said that any but a tiny number of educated British people would accept the description that an accent with some degree of regional association may be said to
distort an acceptednorm. Most of us are aware that people who hold such irrational and extreme views exist but they could not have been said to be taken seriously by the late twentieth century. This is not to say that the speaker in public life who retains a very strong local accent with no concessions at all to more general kinds of usage is felt to be behaving completely appropriately. Many people profess admiration or affection for certain kinds of regional accent, especially accents with some degree of rural association. Correspondingly any accent strongly associated with a highly industrialised area may often be considered unattractive.
unsophisticatedspeech. Abercrombie 1953 (p. 48) insisted that
The division between RP speakers and educated English people who speak Standard English with some different accent ... is a social one. It is a sharp division for no compromise is possible. One either speaks RP, or one does not ... RP is a status symbol, an indication of social standing ... The existence of this peculiar accent situation is scarcely suspected by the rest of the English-speaking world ... even English phoneticians usually refrain from discussing it.There is much here that is now, to say the least, highly questionable. Many English phoneticians have been given to discussing or at least referring to this topic. The sharpness of division may be true as regards the subjective reactions of a minute number of individuals but it is clear that such consciousness of sharp divisions as people may have had in the past has very much weakened in British society.
sharp divisionwas inappropriate is the circumstance that no two British phoneticians are likely to agree on where the line between RP and non-RP is to be drawn. It is quite clear that the sort of person who is the RP speaker described in Abercrombie (1953) would not have accepted Henry Sweet with his voiceless th-sound in
althoughand his version of
umbrellasuggesting the spelling "umberella". I myself do not find
acceptableall the pronunciations accepted by Daniel Jones. I'm confident that most of my colleagues would agree with me that the version Jones expressly
receivedin the 1956 edition of his English Pronouncing Dictionary (p. xxx) of
quicklywith the /k/ completely replaced by a glottal plosive would be of very dubious prestige in non-casual speech.
receivedcertain usages. I don't mean simply such things as his withdrawal of the categorisation of eg
remind, reviveetc with schwa in the first syllable as
dialectal. In the EPD of 1956 he re-wrote a paragraph of the Explanations (p. xxviii para.7) specifically withdrawing recognition of such forms as
easilyand "passages" with schwas in their middle syllables. Incidentally, he also permanently withheld from his acceptance many pronunciations of individual words that ninety-nine percent of other phoneticians would have accepted, notably in 1956 digging his heels in about
Variant Pronunciations of the Unstressed Terminations -less, -ness etcand thereby excluding from his classification as RP-speaker Abercrombie, Gimson and all his own staff including his much-admired first assistant Lilias Armstrong. She had candidly acknowledged influence of the north in the EFL textbook Armstrong 1923 (p. vii) because, as she said, she considered her pronunciation
in no way extreme(which was no doubt a tactful way of expressing disagreement with her revered mentor's judgement on some matters). Abercrombie's
sharp divisionhad already been contradicted in Ellis 1877 in which he observed that
the boundary which separates received from inadmissible pronunciation is by no means a mathematical line.
receiveJones's pronunciation: I do not recall her exact words but they amounted to her saying that she found his speech very
undistinguished, not at all on the approved side of a line which might be said to divide
culturedvoices from the rest. By contrast I very clearly remember my own first hearing Jones speak as producing the exact opposite effect. I was relieved to hear that a writer who accepted without comment numbers of pronunciations which did and still do strike me as highly socially conspicuous sounded himself so
normal. It is commonplace to hear phoneticians disagreeing with colleagues over whether an individual's speech or particular pronunciations are or are not "RP". Strang 1970 directly contradicted Abercrombie:
being an RP speaker, as far as that expression has meaning, is not an all-or-nothing, once-and-for-all status ... even professional linguists differ in particular cases as to whether an individual is using RP. Gimson's 1970a (p.18) notable shibboleth for RP, the distinguishing of races from racers was not accepted as such by anything like all his younger colleagues.
any foreign accent ... is socially acceptableso long as it is
intelligible. There can be no doubt that there is an admiration scale for foreign accents. It has eg French somewhere near the top and eg some African ones well back in the running. Nor can one agree that accents outside England are exempt from social prejudice. Very few educated people in England are able to identify the fine shades of status which different speech forms from elsewhere in the English-speaking world have within their own spheres. I have often little idea whether Edinburgh people would feel that some non-metropolitan Scottish feature is more prestigious or less so than another. Some features of highly educated eg Australian or Southern US speech coincide with what are usually perceived as markedly low-status varieties in England.
RP, in that fairly obvious regional influences show, have now largely evaporated. For decades the media of radio and most powerfully television have provided for observation daily to the whole nation the speech of those in positions of the highest prestige in the land in government, in industry, in science, in the arts etc. People with obviously regionally-affiliated accents have thus been observable as occupying a large proportion of such leading positions. This has naturally weakened the old association of authority and distinction exclusively with a non-regional accent. It is not unusual these days to meet people of the highest social standing such as ambassadors with accents clearly evidencing their region of origin. It is little wonder that the
accent bar, to use the lurid expression of Abercrombie 1951, is an outmoded concept. If anything, embarrassment to young people nowadays occurs as often to those who have speech habits which proclaim uncomfortably obtrusively their associations with the wealthy and fashionable. Abercrombie 1951 and 1953 had nothing to say of reactions to different types of speech above the so-called
RP(which H. L. Mencken dubbed
complacentwith much justice) quite curious and tend to use either Standard British pronunciation or the equally unsuitable expression Southern British pronunciation. J. L. M. Trim in a thoughtful article of 1961 proposed the use of the expression
English Standard Pronunciation (abbreviation E.S.P.)for what had previously been called RP, reserving
RPfor the distinctively public school accent. J. C. Wells & G. Colson in their Practical Phonetics 1971 favoured
Southern British Standard. In my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English of 1972 the present writer, rejecting Trim's suggestion because
standardis unacceptably question-begging and because its lack of part-of-the-world identification seems rather parochial, introduced the term General British (abbreviation GB) which has a convenient parallelism with the widely used term General American (GA). Some people haven't liked either one or the other or both of these terms (GA and GB) but there has been little doubt about what either of them is intended to convey.
RP, referred to it as the speech of
the families of Southern English people who have been educated at the Public schoolsand of people not from Southern England
but who have been educated at these schools. He also added that it was his impression that most graduate Londoners spoke with much the same accent, and to an extent
considerable though difficult to specifyso did Southerners not educated in public schools. Thus it will be seen that this kind of pronunciation, basically and originally associated with the public schools, was not exclusively associated with them even by Daniel Jones. As Jones remarked
Quite a number of variations are to be found in it.These include some striking developments that have become apparent relatively recently. Some writers, like Wyld and Ward, laid particular stress on the circumstance that a speaker within this accent range was said to display nothing in his speech which readily identified him with any specific locality or region within Great Britain. Jones himself referred to it as
independent of locality. However, it has become evident in recent years that there have been kinds of changes that have not occurred to it before in the whole of its existence. It has begun to develop new streams diverging from the mainstream which are not regionally neutral, though the regions they are associated with are very broad ones.
plasterhas been remarked on. It is now clear that very substantial numbers of public-school-educated speakers born from around 1940 onwards speak with an accent that, while apparently sounding unremarkable to their social peers in their own age group, clearly associates them with the Home Counties. The existence of this metropolitan sub-variety of
RPwas first clearly described by S. S. Eustace in 1967 in a paper
Present Changes in English Pronunciationwhich analysed the speech of several boys then at Eton. Among the features noted were replacements of [l] by vowel articulations and certain oral by glottal plosives. There is no doubt that this sort of change reflects new developments in social patterns and attitudes but it is to be noted that such speakers share only a very limited set of regional features with metropolitan-type accents of middle-class types (now commonly but quite inappropriately called "Estuary") and demotic ones traditionally known as varieties of Cockney. They do not for instance include the dropping of /h/ beginning stressed syllables or countenance the use of /f/ to begin the word thin etc. At the same time such speakers may be found to display conspicuously prestigious variants such as markedly front values beginning the "oh" diphthong or the monophthongisation of the vocalic element of a words like fire and power.
-es, was by the end of the century quite widely heard amongst broadcasters such as reporters, interviewers, presenters and newsreaders. As this characteristic doesn't reveal anything of the local affinities of the speech of those who exhibit it except to fairly markedly contra-indicate the area around London, its social acceptability appearing to be equal with that of regionally-neutral GB, it constituted a further division developed by
RP. The majority of those employed most essentially for the acceptability of their speech as newsreaders in British national television and radio and the BBC World Service could be categorised as ordinary GB ie regionally neutral, socially inconspicuous British speakers. In more recent years new announcers etc with obvious socially conspicuous features (Conspicuous GB) have rarely been heard but non-General-British features have been heard increasingly.
arouse too much adverse criticism in the country. In Lloyd James 1932 (p. 154) he said
At least fifty candidates, all University men, are rejected for every one accepted, and the only conclusion I am driven to is that either the public schools and Universities do not talk Standard English or that what they do talk is unsuitable for broadcasting. Lloyd James was not a public-school product but his speech, on gramophone records at least, was remarkably similar to Daniel Jones's.
RPused in various quarters viz educated English, Southern English, London English, Southern British, British Standard, Oxford accent, King's/Queen's English and Standard English. His suggestion that the term Standard English
came into use not very long agoin the light of the employment of it by Sweet, Jespersen, Jones and various others in Edwardian times was not appropriate. One of the commonest popular expressions, BBC English, he did not mention presumably because it had not become quite so well known at the time at which he was writing though the Oxford Dictionary has quotations illustrating its first use from the early thirties. Despite its adoption by Roach for his 1997 revision of the Jones dictionary, this term is also inadmissible. It is certainly not officially recognised by the BBC itself. Furthermore, by the end of the twentieth century all divisions of the BBC, as well as ITV, had adopted a policy of recruiting newsreaders and presenters from any part the world, the World Service using even audibly non-native speakers of English. G. M. Miller, from 1939 to 1971 head of its Pronunciation Unit, writing in her official capacity said
Although the BBC does not, and never did, impose pronunciations of its own on individual words, the myth of(at that time there were only a dozen of them). Gimson 1970 (p. 88), in briefly identifyingBBC Englishdies hard. It owed its birth no doubt to the era before the Second World War, when all announcers ... spoke ... Received Pronunciation
general RP formsreferred to them as those
most commonly in use and typified by the pronunciation adopted by the BBC. Strang 1970 (p. 45) invited her readers to
agree to use RP for the variety of speech heard from British-born national newscasters on the BBC. Similarly the judgements of what constituted
General Britishas represented in my Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of 1972 were based as far as possible on
a systematic collection of data on the pronunciation of ... the BBC and ITV national newsreaders and the newsreaders of the BBC World Service(p.xv).
There would be little point in a foreigner learning any accent of England except RPbecause of its
great prestigeand the
social disadvantagesof the various others
Northern, Western, Midland, Southernthough he adds that these
nearly all resemble RP, more or less, to any except English ears. A truer picture of contemporary attitudes was to be obtained from Gimson 1962 (p. 83)
it cannot be said that RP is any longer the exclusive property of any particular social stratum. However, the great expansion of all kinds of broadcasting had by then made it inevitable that the net should be cast wider. Even so, it can be said that hardly any of the principal newsreaders has ever had a very markedly non-GB accent.
The social revolution of the past has already reversed the trend of Victorian and Edwardian days towards the recognition of Oxbridge, Mayfair and the Court as the sole sources of a good accent. Many of our daily newsreaders and news-commentators are Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Canadians not to mention Yorkshiremen and Cockneys all freely and naturally using their native accents.... This was rather unduly optimistic in respect of BBC newsreaders in their newsreading function: virtually all the ones I have heard have seemed, if not already naturally conforming, to make considerable adaptations, whether consciously or not, to GB as is perfectly natural in the situation. Newsreaders usually study each others' performance as part of their on-going self-preparation for the task. This is not to disagree with Quirk's essential point about the decline in the exclusive prestige of conspicuous
Received Pronunciation, a theme also taken up by Barber 1964 and others. Perhaps the most surprising area in which the changing attitudes are apparent is the theatre. Even the classic roles are not now exclusively delivered in GB. The actor Robert Lang was quoted in The Times of 19 February 1972 as saying
O'Toole and Finney were the first actors who actually did Shakespeare without learning to speak good English. The fact is that it was not true that they couldn't have attempted Shakespearian roles in GB. However, that they could consciously use a non-GB accent for upper-class characters is one more particularly revealing piece of evidence of the general reduced sensitivity to accent features.
governing voicehas almost entirely disappeared. Archived announcer excerpts from the twentieth century now often sound quite archaic to twenty-first-century listeners.
for many people the phonetic distinctiveness of RP is becoming blurred, when Barber 1964 said
educated south-eastern ... speech is now coming to be included in the concept of RPand when Close 1971 talked of
strong overtones of privilege and exclusiveness that need be associated with RP no longer. Likewise Gimson 1970a (p.18) contrasted
classic RPwith its new development viz another form of RP in which
some features of regional forms of speech are 'received' in a way that would not have been the case half a century ago. Judging from the wide currency of his examples of the latter, these two types are respectively Conspicuous GB and ordinary unmarked GB. It's interesting to note that during the nineteen sixties a popular term began to be used which fairly effectively identified the sociological status of ordinary mainstream GB. This was the term "classless accent". The OED has a quotation of 1959 referring to a "classless voice". It was of course not to be taken completely literally because its meaning of neither markedly upper-class nor the reverse actually conveys ambiguity between middle and upper but does not encompass demotic usages. The term General British to refer to such a
classlessaccent seems suitable because GB is to be heard not from more people than any other accent but more widely spread than any other accent around Great Britain ie England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland is to be understood as part of the United Kingdom but not of Great Britain. General British also may be noted to constitute a common denominator in its relation to the regional accents.
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