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ET BlogI have decided to blog once in a while about topics inspired by conversations with my students. So here goes...

RP and Standard English. These two are not the same thing.
At a party. "My wife will be down shortly. She is just practicing a posher accent"

RP means Received Pronunciation. These extracts have been taken from the excellent British Library website.
RP is a young accent in linguistic terms. It was not around, for example, when Dr Johnson wrote A Dictionary of the English Language in 1757. He chose not to include pronunciation suggestions as he felt there was little agreement even within educated society regarding ‘recommended’ forms. The phrase Received Pronunciation was coined in 1869 by the linguist, A J Ellis, but it only became a widely used term used to describe the accent of the social elite after the phonetician, Daniel Jones, adopted it for the second edition of the English Pronouncing Dictionary (1924). (British Library)
"All RP speakers speak Standard English. In other words, they avoid non-standard grammatical constructions and localised vocabulary characteristic of regional dialects. RP is also regionally non-specific, that is it does not contain any clues about a speaker’s geographic background. But it does reveal a great deal about their social and/or educational background."
RP was taught at public schools (private fee-paying boarding schools, such as Eton and Harrow), and OxBridge (Oxford and Cambridge Universities); therefore, it became associated with 'The Establishment' - those in power. If you wanted to get on in life, you needed to speak with an RP accent. The BBC did not allow regional accents (apart from in one notable exception - story to follow in another post). Now this policy has changed, and you can currently hear many different accents on the BBC. BTW, what frequency is the BBC WorldService on the radio in Vilnius?

So all RP speakers speak Standard English, but this is not necessarily true the other way round. I speak Standard English but not with an RP accent. I can switch between various forms of English. I could feign that I speak RP for about half an hour before I would let it slip that really I am a Northerner! 

So I speak with a modified regional accent that would indicate to a native Brit that I am from the North of England. Unlike my mother, who is a Southerner (she can't help it!), I pronounce the 'a' in 'castle' in the same way as I would pronounce the word 'cat'. For my mum, it's 'ca(r)stle' - a longer vowel /a:/. This is just one example of a deviance from RP. I am happy that the way I speak is part of my identity.

Most educated people can happily switch between Standard forms of English (at work) and then revert to their less formal choice of words with their family and friends. In my classroom, I use and teach Standard forms of the language. However, on my private Facebook wall, I wish to express myself and not limit my identity; language serves as a means to express myself, and yes - for me, this means through non-Standard forms (or playing with language).

If I wrote an essay for an exam, or applied for a job, of course, I would have to use Standard English to be taken seriously.
Nowadays, I would argue that to be taken seriously, you are better off not speaking pure Conservative RP. There are numerous examples of how people in power have modified their accent to be more acceptable or fit in with the local electorate. Even The Queen has changed her voiceChange is natural (cue a debate about Lithuanian and her guardians...). Listen to the Queen's first Christmas Speech from 1957. She sounds rather amusing in places as her speech sounds dated. It is possible to track how her accent as changed as her Christmas Speech is broadcast every year at 3pm on Christmas Day.

Indeed many commentators even suggest that younger RP speakers often go to great lengths to disguise their middle-class accent by incorporating regional features into their speech.

You should be familiar with RP in order to read the pronunciation supplied in any good dictionary.

"As well as being a living accent, RP is also a theoretical linguistic concept. It is the accent on which phonemic transcriptions in dictionaries are based". (British Library)

This is not the only way the word will be pronounced, however. Part of my job as a teacher is to show you that most people you meet in the real world will not speak RP and may not even use Standard English when you meet them. As listeners, you should be prepared for this. Sometimes RP can sound antiquated and ridiculous. Modified versions of it are easy to understand and serve as a good model. In my classroom, you will be exposed to Standard English spoken with a northern accent.

Hopefully, accent prejudice will die. For now, it is very much alive as we judge people as being "too posh" or "uneducated" the moment they open their mouths. Accents are also related to the class system, which we will have to save for another day!


The British Library website 

Professor Peter Trudgill estimated that only 3% of the population of GB speak RP. 

Jack Windsor Lewis criticising the 3'% figure.

David Robson on the Queen modifying her accent

Erica Buist on Riot Club and 'posh' speak 

Queen Elizabeth II back in 1957

Stan Carey on accents for the Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Cartoon by PUGH (Daily Mail) 

Listen to the BBC WorldService online or on your radio (remember those?!). The frequency in Vilnius is 99.5 FM.

If you found anything interesting here, please spread the word by liking or sharing this article on social media. I'd really appreciate it.

UPDATE: Watch this! Hugh Dellar speaks sense!!

Books by Tim Shipman

If you are interested in politics, Britain, Brexit, and modern history, you might appreciate these books. They just happen to have been written by my brother! These are links to the Kindle version available on Amazon.