Received Pronunciation

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms - Definition and Examples

received pronunciation
In Hollywood movies, many of the villains use received pronunciation--even supposedly German villains like Die Hard's Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman. (20th Century Fox, 1988)

Definition

Received pronunciation is a once prestigious variety of British English spoken without an identifiable regional accent. Commonly abbreviated as RP. Also known as British Received Pronunciation, RP, BBC English, the Queen's English, and posh accent.

"Received Pronunciation is only around 200 years old," says ​linguist David Crystal. "It emerged towards the end of the 18th century as an upper-class accent, and soon became the voice of the public schools, the civil service, and the British Empire" (Daily Mail, October 3, 2014).

 

According to Tom McArthur, "RP has always been a minority accent, unlikely ever to have been spoken by more than 3-4% of the British population" (The Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992).

The term received pronunciation was introduced and described by phonetician Alexander Ellis in his book Early English Pronunciation (1869).

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:

Examples and Observations:

  • "In his English Pronouncing Dictionary [1917], Daniel Jones defines RP as 'the everyday speech of families of Southern English persons whose menfolk were educated in the great public boarding schools.' It was standard practice until the 1950s for university students to adjust their regional accents to be closer to RP. RP was traditionally used on stage, for public speaking, and by the well-educated. In the 1950s, RP was used by the BBC as a broadcast standard and was referred to as BBC English. Since the 1970s, the BBC label has been dropped and RP has slowly been more inclusive of regional influences throughout the United Kingdom. By the turn of the twenty-first century RP was spoken by only 3 percent of the population. Today BBC broadcasters do not use Received Pronunciation, which actually today now sounds out of place; they use a neutralized version of their own regional accents that is intelligible to all listeners."
    (Kathryn LaBouff, Singing and Communicating in English. Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Characteristics of RP
    "The prestige British accent known as 'received pronunciation' (RP) pronounces h at the beginning of words, as in hurt, and avoids it in such words as arm. Cockney speakers do the reverse; I 'urt my harm. Most English accents around the world pronounce words like car and heart with an audible r; RP is one of the few accents which does not. In RP, words like bath are pronounced with a 'long a' ('bahth"); up north in England it is a 'short a.' Accent variations mainly affect the vowels of a language."
    (David Crystal, Think on My Words: Exploring Shakespeare's Language. Cambridge University Press, 2008)
  • The Dialect of Movie Villains
    "Adoptive RP, a common feature of the past, is in this sense increasingly a rarity in modern language use as many speakers reject the premise that it is this accent alone which is the key to success. Reversing the polarities still further, RP . . . has regularly been deployed for those roundly depicted as villains in, for example, Disney's films The Lion King and Tarzan."
    (Lynda Mugglestone, Talking Proper: The Rise and Fall of the English Accent as a Social Symbol. Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Backlash Against RP in Ghana
    "[A] backlash is growing against the old mentality of equating a British accent with prestige. Now the practice has a new acronym, LAFA, or 'locally acquired foreign accent,' and attracts derision rather than praise.

    "'In the past we have seen people in Ghana try to mimic the Queen's English, speaking in a way that doesn't sound natural. They think it sounds prestigious, but frankly it sounds like they are overdoing it,' said Professor Kofi Agyekum, head of linguistics at the University of Ghana.

    "'There has been a significant change now, away from those who think sounding English is prestigious, towards those who value being multilingual, who would never neglect our mother tongues, and who are happy to sound Ghanaian when we speak English.'"
    (Afua Hirsch, "Ghana Calls an End to Tyrannical Reign of the Queen's English." The Guardian, April 10, 2012)