British non-dialectal accents

(This contains revisions, the latest from June 2012, of the article that appeared in
 Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik  33/3 1985
It was listed in Collins & Mees 1999 as 'Received Pronunciation an undated and unpublished MS')

  1. Readers of J. C. Wells's unrivalled account of Accents of English of 1982 may find in its second volume at page 297 the remark 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.
  2. For almost two centuries there has existed in Great Britain 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.
  3. It is commonplace for the more prestigious members of a metropolitan community to resist adaptation of their habits to the ways of non-metropolitan areas to which they might move and for those they move among to be in general influenced by them rather than vice versa. In Great Britain such a state of affairs became more advanced than probably anywhere else largely as a consequence of the spread in the nineteenth century of the custom of providing education for the offspring of the affluent in what are known somewhat paradoxically as Public Schools. These were attended mainly by pupils who, within their schools, formed communities relatively isolated, at least in terms of linguistic influence, from the localities in which they were situated. There have always existed considerable numbers of speakers, also of high social prestige, whose speech displayed readily perceivable regional associations. Among these would be products of the public schools which were more integrated into the life of the surrounding community particularly through having large proportions of non-boarding pupils. Cf Wyld 1913:254, Barber 1964:24 etc.
  4. Within England a degree of social prestige is generally associated with any speech which is completely non-regional. The more distinctly regionally affiliated a particular type of speech happens to be the less uniform is social reaction to it. There are sub-varieties within the regionally virtually neutral type which are more conspicuously prestigious than others: such varieties are marked least by the distributions of phonemes within individual words, but mostly by background voice quality, segment quality and prosodic features. What to call the least-regional accent of Great Britain has always been a problem for linguistic scholars. Popular expressions abound but they tend to be ambiguous and problematic to interpret without a knowledge of the origins and outlook of the user. A century or more ago Henry Sweet's term educated was 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.
  5. The first modern scientific describer of British speech, Alexander J. Ellis, showed unease about selecting a term. In Ellis 1877:25 he referred to the vowels recognised in the received, refined, literary, educated, cultivated, or rather central pronunciation 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 country with 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 received was frequently employed by him, but in nearly all occurrences obviously merely as a convenient epithet among others, in the sense socially accepted or recognised to 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 rp glossing 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 Received in other collocations than with Pronunciation from time to time, at least in his Outline of English Phonetics but no other British linguistician did so after Wyld.
  6. It is very likely that such a sociological application of the term received had 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 received in the course of discussing types of English accent. Walker 1791 refers to London pronunciation as being more generally received than other types (p. 11) but comes even less near than Ellis does to setting up an institutionalised regular label received pronunciation.
  7. When Daniel Jones published his first works on English pronunciation he referred to the kind of accent he represented (essentially his own) as "standard pronunciation", most often indicated by the abbreviation "StP", in all of several books written up to 1914. By 1917, however, he had abandoned the term standard and 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 received as widely understood!) In respect of defining RP widely understood was 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.
  8. Jones made no comment on his 1926 changeover from PSP to RP. PSP was 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 Received Standard of really good speech! Jones's colleague and contemporary Lloyd James did not adopt PSP (or Wyld's proposal either).
  9. Palmer 1926 somewhat erratically veered between Wyld's original proposed new terminology of 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 near that 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 able articles 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.
  10. If in less than twenty years the sociological climate had changed quickly (and I think it fair to say that Jones seems to have earlier held opinions that could be described as rather conservative for his generation) in the succeeding period it changed at a tremendous rate. That is not to say that there are none left alive with even Wyld's outlook: every age has its coelacanths. Forty years and two world wars after Wyld 1913, David Abercrombie published an article English Accents the 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.
  11. Being by a scholar of such great distinction the article must have widely influenced thinking on this subject yet one could not be without considerable misgivings that, a quarter of a century or more after its appearance and that of its sister article 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 stigma had 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 accepted norm. 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.
  12. The situation today is that some eighty or ninety percent of educated people in England speak in a way that is fairly immediately recognisable as connected with one or other of the broad regional divisions of the country but that the differences between their speech and that of completely unregionalisable speakers is trivial by comparison with the strongly local usages of those with very markedly unsophisticated speech. 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.
  13. When the writer in 1975 questioned Abercrombie on which side of the division he placed a certain BBC television newsreader he said that he regarded him as an RP speaker. When it was pointed out that this reader displayed regularly certain features which would be traditionally described by any English phonetician using the term as non-RP, he remarked that, listening to him for content rather than as a professional observer of speech, he could well have overlooked such things. I fully understood this and feel that I or any other British phonetician would be equally likely to make such a categorisation without careful attention to the speaker's phonetic characteristics. But this surely indicated that there is a good deal of blurring possible  that the division is less sharp than the Abercrombie 1953 comment suggested. Another indication that the Abercrombie 1953 insistence on a sharp division was 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 although and his version of umbrella suggesting the spelling "umberella". I myself do not find acceptable all the pronunciations accepted by Daniel Jones. I'm confident that most of my colleagues would agree with me that the version Jones expressly received in the 1956 edition of his English Pronouncing Dictionary (p. xxx) of quickly with the /k/ completely replaced by a glottal plosive would be of very dubious prestige in non-casual speech.
  14. Jones himself had trouble deciding whether he received certain usages. I don't mean simply such things as his withdrawal of the categorisation of eg remind, revive etc 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 easily and "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 etc and 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 division had 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.
  15. Most phoneticians would not wish to draw this line as sharply as Abercrombie 1953 suggested. If they did, not one of them would escape being put on the wrong side of it by one or more of his colleagues. Indeed one British phonetician who sat at Daniel Jones's feet in the thirties once made it perfectly clear to me that she didn't entirely receive Jones'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 cultured voices 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.
  16. Yet another Abercrombie 1953 assertion that could not be upheld was the suggestion that any foreign accent ... is socially acceptable so 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.
  17. The situation now is that the old social sanctions against speech only slightly different from ordinary 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 accent bar.
  18. American scholars, not unnaturally, find the term RP (which H. L. Mencken dubbed complacent with 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 RP for 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 standard is 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.
  19. Jones, in successive editions of his pronouncing dictionary, in defining the narrow range of English accents which he called RP, referred to it as the speech of the families of Southern English people who have been educated at the Public schools and 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 specify so 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.
  20.  Of course there were and are considerably different shades of accent to be heard even within a single public school. Also there have always been, as noted above, a fair number of people who with affluent backgrounds and public school education have still exhibited traces of regional speech features. For example the use by Lord Curzon (1859-1925) of the "short" vowel /a/ in words like lath and plaster has 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 RP was first clearly described by S. S. Eustace in 1967 in a paper Present Changes in English Pronunciation which 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.
  21. Although Gimson indicated in 1977 at of his one major revision of the Jones EPD that he regarded the pairs 'boxes, boxers' and 'chatted, chattered' as "even among the young", remaining "dominant in RP", the use of schwa in the inflections -ed and -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.
  22. In its very early days the BBC selected as announcers virtually only people educated at public schools and Conspicuous GB features of one sort or another were to be heard from a fair proportion of them, eg John Snagge, Alvar Lidell, Ronald Fletcher, Jack de Manio. The distinguished phonetician Arthur Lloyd James, in the nineteen-twenties and -thirties the BBC's superviser of their recruitment, was at some pains to filter out applicants for any announcing posts who he thought might 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.
  23. The term 'Received Pronunciation', although in the last three decades or so not so arcane as it once was, was very slow to become a universal expression in the vocabulary of educated English speakers. It didn't appear in any of the Oxford dictionaries until 1964. However, by the second decade of the twenty-first century it has become something of a popular cliché. Abercrombie 1953 very properly dismissed a whole raft of inappropriate or misleading synonyms for RP used 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 ago in 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 BBC English dies hard. It owed its birth no doubt to the era before the Second World War, when all announcers ... spoke ... Received Pronunciation (at   that time there were only a dozen of them). Gimson 1970 (p. 88), in briefly identifying general RP forms referred 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 British as 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).
  24. On EFL target accents Abercrombie suggested There would be little point in a foreigner learning any accent of England except RP because of its great prestige and the social disadvantages of the various others Northern, Western, Midland, Southern though 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.
  25. Randolph Quirk in an ebullient 1970 broadcast talk printed in Quirk 1972 remarked 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.
  26. As regards the BBC, no doubt changes have less been planned as such than emerged as natural developments. There began to be different streams in the seventies. For a time at one extreme we had Radio 1's plebeian style while at the other we had from BBC1 television strictly sober and anonymous continuity announcements with old-style accent restrictions showing a very different sort of guiding hand. The main changes in the speech of readers of the principal news bulletins on radio and tv have been in the direction of fewer of them having conspicuous GB accents. The old authoritative governing voice has almost entirely disappeared. Archived announcer excerpts from the twentieth century  now often sound quite archaic to twenty-first-century listeners.
  27. Various observers began to comment in different ways as when Spencer 1969 said that perhaps 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 RP and 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 RP with 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 classless accent 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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