Explore the BBC
Click for a Text Only version of this page
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
BBC Radio 4
Routes of English

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!
The Routes of English - BBC Radio 4
home Message Board World of English Games Links Q and A
Routes of English Special - Talking Posh

Presenter Melvyn Bragg
In this special edition of Routes of English, Melvyn Bragg turns his attention to the mysterious speech patterns of Britain's aristocrats for whom Cadogan Square will forever be "squaur".

But was it ever thus? And is toffs' talk the product of a lineage that in many cases stretches back to the Middle Ages?

The language of the upper classes is known by language experts as URP, upper received pronunciation.

According to Lord Onslow, the clipped phrases and lengthened vowels are perfectly natural, but he is less certain of why his speech is so different from the rest of society.
audio clip

This slightly archaic type of speech can lead to cringingly embarrassing situations where the speaker is simply not understood. audio clip

Lynda Mugglestone explains that the movement away from distinctly regional forms of speech towards a national standard shifted the speech patterns of the British particularly the English aristocracy. A process which has continued to the present day.
audio clip

In Georgian Britain of George lll, changes in pronunciation and greater social mobility lead to the publication of many pronunciation dictionaries.

Even the leaders of society were not immune to mispronunciation.

audio clip

Eton College
According to a manual from 1869, the 'best accent' was taught at Eton and Oxford. For some that still holds true, although now it's socially acceptable to choose whether to retain or even acquire this expensive veneer.

But for many, how they sound to others is not how they sound to themselves.

audio clip

What is it that makes the speech patterns of the upper classes distinct from other speakers of RP? Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward spoke fine UPR, every syllable is sounded but some letters are clipped, 'i', 'e' and 'a' coming in for some particularly rough treatment.

Other URP speakers seem to start their sentences with a bang and trail away to a whimper.
audio clip

Nancy Mitford
In the 1920's, Lord Reith, director general of the BBC, believed that there was a right way to speak and insisted that his announcers should all speak properly and all sound the same. He saw it as his duty to ensure that the public knew the right way to speak.

By the 1940's the public were not so impressed, indeed Nancy Mitford was lucky to escape with her life following her lectures delivered in the Mitford way.
audio clip

The acme of aristocracy is the royal family, but even the Queen's English has changed over the years since her coronation in 1952.

So much so that "The Mirror" famously declared, "Er Madge don't talk so posh any more"
audio clip

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy