What is "Received Pronunciation"? How did it come about? Where is one likely to hear "Received Pronunciation"?
Note: this is an exposure draft only.
A pronunciation of British English, originally based on the speech of the upper class of southeastern England and characteristic of the English spoken at the public schools and at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Until recently it was the standard form of English used in British broadcasting. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
An overview of "Received Pronunciation"
More notes on Pronunciations of English ([David CRYSTAL: The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN: 0 521 40179 8.]):
In England, one accent has traditionally stood out above all others in its ability to convey associations of respectable social standing and a good education. This "prestige" accent is known as RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION, or RP. It is associated with the south-east, where most RP-speakers live or work, but it can be found anywhere in the country. Accents usually tell us where a person is from; RP tells us only about a person's social or educational background.
In due course, RP came to sybolize a person's high position in society. During the 19th century, it became the accent of public schools, such as Eton and Harrow, and was soon the main sign that a speaker had received a good education. It spread rapidly throughout the Civil Service of the British Empire and the armed forces, and became the voice of authority and power. Because it was a regionally 'neutral' accent, and was thought to be more widely understood than any regional accent, it came to adopted by the BBC, when radio broadcasting began in the 1920s. During WW2, it became linked in many minds with the voice of freedom, and the notion of a "BBC pronunciation" grew.
Today, with the breakdown of rigid divisions between social classes and the development of the mass media, RP is no longer the preserve of a social elite. It is best described as an "educated" accent - though "accents" would be more precise, for there are several varieties. The most widely used is that generally heard on the BBC; but there are also conservative and trend-setting forms. The former is found in many older establishment speakers. The latter is usually associated with certain social and professional groups - in particular, the voice of the London upwardly mobile ("the Sloane Rangers") in the 1980s.
Early BBC recordings show how much RP has altered over just a few decades, and they point that no acccent is immune to change, not even 'the best'. But the most important observation is that RP is no longer as widely used today as it was 50 years ago. It is still the standard accent of the Royal Family, Parliament, the Church of England, the High Courts, and other national institutions; but less than 3 per cent of the British people speak it in a pure form now. Most educated people have developed an accent which is a mixture of RP and various regional characteristics -'modified RP', some call it.
Nonetheless RP continues to retain considerable status. It has long been the chief accent taught to foreigners who wish to learn a British model, and is thus widely used abroad (by far more peole, in fact, than have it as a mother-tounge accent in the UK).
Pietro E. Reyes, posting in soc.culture.filipino
Formal definitions of "Received Pronunciation"
My linguistics dictionary gives "Pronunciation of standard British English based on the speech of educated speakers of southern British English.... the type of pronunciation often recommended as a model for foreign learners."
MW gives - "Received Standard, the dialect of British English spoken by the upper classes, esp. by graduates of the public schools and of Oxford and Cambridge."
Collins gives "Received Pronunciation, the accent of standard Southern British English"
I'm using the top definition but there are more questions than answers. "Educated" would once have been seen as "privately educated". RP and Public School pronunciation would once have been seen as identical. Graduates of Oxbridge would once nearly all have been from public schools. A public school accent, however strangled and artificial, would once have been deemed correct by definition. But no longer. The old public school accent could not be called RP these days if the term is to have any meaning - it is certainly not the standard for teaching English to foreign learners. MW gives "re-ceived (re sevd) adj. accepted; considered as standard". I have a strong impression that it is no longer encouraged in public schools, though others may know more. It may indeed be better to use a more neutral term with a more clearly agreed, flexible definition.
"Phil C", posting in uk.culture.language.english
The etymology of "Received Pronunciation"
I think "received" here means widely accepted or understood, without necessarily being the most widely *used* pronunciation. David Crystal  has the following to say about it:
WHO FIRST CALLED IT RP?
The British phonetician Daniel S Jones was the first to codify the properties of RP. It was not a label he much liked, as he explains in an Outline of English Phonetics (1918):
[END EXTRACT FROM CRYSTAL]
I do not consider it possible at the present time to regard any special type as'Standard'or as intrinsically 'better' than other types. Nevertheless, the type described in this book is certainly a useful one. It is based on my own (Southern) speech, and is, as far as I can ascertain, that generally used by those who have been educated at 'preparatory' boarding schools and the 'Public Schools'.... The term 'Received Pronunciation'... is often used to designate this type of pronunciation. This term is adopted here for want of a better.
The historical linguist H. C. Wyld also made much use of the term 'received' in A Short History of English (1914):
(1960, 9th edn, p. 12)
It is proposed to use the term Received Standard for that form which I would probably agree in considering the best, that form which has the widest currency and is heard with practically no variation among speakers of the better class all over the country.
The previous usage to which Jones refers can be traced back to the dialectologist A. J. Ellis, in On Early English Pronunciation (1869):
(1927, 3rd edn, p. 149)
In the present day we may, however, recognize a received pronunciation all over the country ... It may be especially considered as the educated pronunciation of the metropolis, of the court, the pulpit, and the bar. (p. 23)
Even then, there were signs of the future, for he goes on to say:
But in as much as all these localities and professions are recruited from the provinces, there will be a varied thread of provincial utterance running through the whole.
RP has certainly changed in my lifetime, as anyone can verify by watching old wartime propaganda films and newsreels and listening to the way the officers spoke. That was the form known as "marked RP", which has virtually disappeared today, and has been modified even in the speech of the Queen and other members of the old aristocracy.
 David CRYSTAL: The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN: 0 521 40179 8.
John Davies, posting in alt.usage.english
Commentary on the evolution of "Received Pronunciation"
Actually I think it's quite a complicated question. BBC pronunciation is now very different from BBC pronunciation 50 years ago. The relationship between RP, "BBC English", "Oxford English" "The Queen's English" and "Public School English" is controversial. Some would see them as synonymous. Others wouldn't. I think many would now see the old BBC English as a rather inward-looking, artificial hyperlect trying to pass itself off as "correct" English pronunciation - a tool by which entry to such as as the BBC was restricted to those of the "right" background by those of similar background. Broadcasters who still use that accent now sound like fish out of water (or the Shadow Cabinet, which amounts to the same thing.) The Queen has moderated her accent considerably.
RP was never formally created or enforced (unlike France or Italy). It grew out of the middle class version of the London/South Eastern dialect, no doubt aided by the increasing social mobility of the C19th which led people to be concerned about talking and writing "correctly". Hence the explosion in the popularity of grammars and dictionaries and the increasing tendency for dialects to be despised and suppressed. Well into the C19th, however, the upper classes were still talking with a variety of regional accents. The catalyst for the creation of a distinct and universal Public School accent seems to have been the 1874 Education Act. Education was to be available to all so the upper/middle classes and new rich needed other cultural badges to distinguish themselves from those pushing up from below. An expensive education had to show itself in the way you talked. In modern times I would say that "correct" standard English pronunciation, such as foreigners learn at school, is rather flatter and more muted than Public School English. Perhaps we need a new colloquial term. Actor English? Newsreader English?
"Phil C", posting in uk.culture.language.english
Commentary on the speakers of "Received Pronunciation"
Probably the context in which RP is most widely used is the academic world. Teachers of English as a Foreign Language were mentioned above but the great majority of school teachers within Britain, whether they have regional accents or not, will tend to speak in an accent as close as possible to RP in order to communicate effectively. This is not to say that a regional accent should be a barrier to their ability to teach, but nonetheless RP is considered appropriate in the classroom, particularly in higher education.
University lecturers want to convey new information to a large number of students simultaneously, often involving complex ideas. In such a context, we can see the value of an exceptionally clear and universally understood standard pronunciation. Students need not imitate this accent in order to assimilate the information but the fact that it is expressed in RP may well help them to undersand more easily.
Perhaps surprisingly, one group of speakers who will tend to stay close to RP are those who have learnt English as a second language and achieved a high level of fluency. It is usually quite noticeable because so few native-speakers speak so clearly. People who have learnt English . They are unlikely to adopt linguistic habits that diverge from RP, because they learnt the RP 'standard' pronunciation. Of course, a non-native speaker of English can develop a regional accent, if, for instance, they came to an area with little or no knowledge of English and learnt the language entirely in that region.
extract from the BBC site, article by "Spaceman Spiff"
Commentary on the differences between "BBC English", "The Queen's English", and "Public School English"
In my opinion these are all diffenent names for variants of the basic "Standard British English", except perhaps for so-called "public-school Engnlish", which often seems to be an exaggerated form of th others. There may be slight differences but IMO they are minimal.
On beginners' cassettes using British English they often use speakers with more or less standard pronunciation, but if the course is designed properly the learners will encounter different accents - American, regional British accents, even non-native accents fairly soon into the course.
The standard pronunciation used is the one recorded in the dictionaries. However, I know for a fact that my idiolect has more vowel sounds than are used in standard English, e.g for me the vowel sounds in "pork", and "fork" are different, even though in standard British English they are the same. Nevertheless my pupils do learn to speak English (essentially Britihs english since that is the form in most of the textbooks I have to use) with a pronunciation that is relatively standard.
Einde O'Callaghan, posting in uk.culture.language.english
Commentary on the distinguishing features of "Received Pronunciation"
The following scheme is due to Evan Kirshenbaum. The complete scheme can be accessed on the WWW at: Evan Kirshenbaum's IPA/ASCII page
I show here only examples for the sounds most often referred to in this newsgroup. Where there are two columns, the left column shows British Received Pronunciation (RP), and the right column shows a rhotic pronunciation used by at least some U.S. speakers.
Uche Ogbuji, posting in rec.arts.books
The Pronunciation Guide at "World Wide Words"
This list contains the principal sounds of standard British English (the pronunciation associated with southern England which is often called Received Pronunciation).
Symbols for the sounds are given both in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which appear on our Web pages, and as text in the set of equivalents which are perforce used in our weekly mailings to subscribers. The IPA scheme is similar to that employed by Oxford Dictionaries, while the text symbols are those of the European SAMPA scheme.
The "World Wide Words" site
Published references and resources for further study
There are lots of texts and tapes & if you try the British Council, or write to a bookshop with educational books in UK (e.g. Dillons, Malet Street, London WC1); Heffers, 20 Trinity Street, Cambridge, CB2 3NG, England) you'll be able to get full up to date lists. Unfortunately, it's not only drama students who get RP foisted on them: it's still the reference point where British English is taught as a foreign language. I hope C Duff isn't going to tell students that everyone in Britain speaks RP if they're educated -- it's a minority accent, English (as opposed to British) and class linked.
Books: J C Wells. 1982. (there may be a new edition out). ACCENTS OF ENGLISH. CUP: Cambridge. [in 3 volumes. Volume 2 is The British Isles].
Gimson, A C. [new editions come out regularly -- mine is 1980] An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English. Arnold: London. [Standard Textbook. An appendix discusses the status of RP.
Hughes, Arthur & Peter Trudgill. 1979. [new edition maybe???]. English Accents and Dialects. Arnold: London. [Slim book, accompanying tape is essential]
Anthea Gupta, posting in alt.usage.english
The establishment of the English RP accent : a flawed interpretation? (Language history)
A standard form of written English, in the sense of a variety whose geographical provenance is undetectable, had its origins in developments in the 1420s in the central government bureaucracy in the capital, and, as Dr Mugglestone confirms in this book, was "clearly in existence" by the late 17th century (M10, i.e. Mugglestone, page 10). But, as with many other European languages, a standard variety of spoken English took much longer to emerge. Nevertheless, "over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, a clear sense of an emergent standard of spoken as well as written English" became perceptible (M14). This interesting and valuable book, now available in paperback, tells the story of how that perception became widespread, to the point of establishing RP as the hypothetical model of present-day British English, at least as taught to foreign learners. Dr Mugglestone's account, however, also opens up a number of serious and disputable issues which it is the intention of this paper to explore.
Most of the elements of the standard accent were in place by the end of the 18th century, and in the period c. 1760 to 1800 five times as many works on elocution appeared as had done so before those years. Dr Mugglestone suggests that initially the intention of these authors was simply description, or at most consciousness-raising in regard to accent, but that into the 19th century the tide of prescription became ever stronger. A set of shibboleths was identified, among which h- dropping - for the novelist Gissing, this was the "fiend"; for the commentator Kington-Oliphant "the fatal letter" M211) - was by far the most prominent; indeed, it was to be used by D.H. Lawrence to mark the social distance between Lady Chatterley and her gamekeeper (M107). After a period of uncertainty about the correct pronunciation of the vowel in fast and path, this settled down by the later 19th century in its present form. Other persistent concerns surrounded intrusive r and post-vocalic r, the vowels in cup and bull, and -in for -ing, (though she does not deal with that alternation commonly found, for example, in the second syllable of 'somethink' and 'nothink').
(extract from review article reproduced from Bulletin of the International Association of University Professors of English, John Honey)
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