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18 April 2014
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What is Received Pronunciation?
What is BBC English?
Is there such a thing as 'BBC English'?

Received Pronunciation and BBC English
by Dr Catherine Sangster

What is Received Pronunciation?
"Although the BBC does not, and never did, impose pronunciations of its own on English 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." (Miss G.M. Miller, BBC Pronunciation Unit preface to the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names, 1971)

Received Pronunciation, often abbreviated to RP, is an accent of spoken English. Unlike other UK accents, it's identified not so much with a particular region as with a particular social group, although it has connections with the accent of Southern England. RP is associated with educated speakers and formal speech. It has connotations of prestige and authority, but also of privilege and arrogance. Some people even think that the name 'Received Pronunciation' is a problem - if only some accents or pronunciations are 'received', then the implication is that others should be rejected or refused.

When writing his pronouncing dictionary in 1916, phonetician Daniel Jones described RP as the accent "most usually heard in everyday speech in the families of Southern English persons whose menfolk have been educated at the great public boarding schools". Although this description would raise a few eyebrows today, RP is still the accent generally represented in dictionaries which give pronunciations, and it's also used as a model for the teaching of English as a foreign language.

Perhaps for this reason, RP is often thought of as an unchanging accent; a standard against which other accents can be measured or judged. Some people don't even think of it as an accent at all, but rather a way of speaking without an accent. Speaking without an accent, though, would be like painting without a colour! In fact, there is considerable variation within groups of people who are said to speak RP, the term is differently interpreted by different people, and RP itself has changed considerably over time.

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Your Comments
Should broadcasters still use RP?

Nigel Rees, Milford, CT, USA
The miracle of language is that a sequence of sounds uttered by one creature can be understood by another. Standardization of vocabulary and grammar are essential for this to work. Since the communication is spoken, it must be uttered in a way recognized by the listener. Having segments of the populace speak a separate version of the language allows their members to communicate privately but diminishes their being understood by people outside their segment. Public broadcasts and authoritative messages should be comprehensible to all listeners, so to have an RP makes sense.

Gashaw N. -Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
I like to learn the RP and I'm alwas trying hard to make it possible for me. so, I hope I'll be able to speak English like the Southern Englald citizens!

Alex from Gloucester
Hiya I live in the south and I think it's great that presenters are starting to use more regional accents this finally makes them seem representative not like some snobbish 'elite'. Just to clarify EVERYONE speaks with an accent someone with a received pronounciation accent is particularly noticeable because unless they are from an upperclass hooray-henry background they sound like a Mrs. Bouquet (Bucket) i.e. snobbish and stuck up. Long live regional accents!

Bob Harris from Kettering
The dissapearance of the letter 'T' drives me mad! I've heard people say words such as letter, better and motorway without pronouncing the 'T'. It sounds so lazy.

Art from Oxford
I am certain that the current DJs on Radio are helping destroy any chance the younger generation have of hearing English spoken properly, regardless of local accent. It's bad enough hearing newsreaders pronounce "ask" as "axe", or using the word "like" 6 or 7 times in each sentence; but the awful mix Caribbean and Indian accents that merge into Ali G-esque talk that has replaced the understandable (though banale) language of DJs from just 10 years ago. (I'm 33 and gave up Radio 1 when I could no longer understand any lyrics - I feel too young to be liking Radio 2!)

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