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RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION

RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION
1. PRONUNCIATION regarded as correct or proper, especially by arbiters of usage: ‘the theoretically received pronunciation of literary English’ ( A. J. Ellis, On Early English Pronunciation, vol. 1, 1869); ‘Edinburgh and Dublin have their received pronunciations’ ( Simeon Potter, Changing English, 1969)
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2. [1920s: with initial capitals]. Short form RP. A term in PHONETICS, applied LINGUISTICS, and LANGUAGE TEACHING for the ACCENT generally associated with educated BRITISH ENGLISH and used as the pronunciation model for teaching it to foreign learners. This accent has been referred to technically as: Received Standard English (or Received Standard) and Public School English by Henry Cecil Wyld; Public School Pronunciation (PSP) by Daniel JONES, prior to using the term itself; General British in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (3rd edition, 1974: in contrast to General American); standard southern pronunciation; and standard (spoken) British English. Since its initial description by Jones in the ENGLISH PRONOUNCING DICTIONARY (EPD) in 1917, it has probably become the most described and discussed accent on earth.

Attitudes to RP

The terms Received Pronunciation and RP are not widely known outside the immediate circle of English-language professionals, but the form that they refer to is widely known as the spoken embodiment of a variety or varieties known as the KING'S ENGLISH, the Queen's English, BBC ENGLISH, OXFORD ENGLISH, and PUBLIC SCHOOL ENGLISH. It is often informally referred to by the British middle class as a BBC accent or a public school accent and by the working class as talking proper or talking posh. In England, it is also often referred to simply as Standard English. Its ‘advanced’ (that is, distinctive upper-class and royal) form is sometimes called la-di-dah (as in talking la-di-dah) or a cut-glass accent, especially if used by people judged as not really ‘from the top drawer’. RP has been described by many of its users and admirers in the UK and elsewhere as the best pronunciation for BrE, for the countries influenced by BrE, or for all users of English everywhere. Americans do not normally subscribe to this view, but many of them admire RP as the representative accent of educated BrE while some associate it with the theatre and, in men, with effeminacy.

Many British people dislike Received Pronunciation, usually arguing that it is a mark of privilege and (especially among the Scots, Northern Irish, and Welsh) of social domination by the (especially southern) English. It has, however, a considerable gravitational pull throughout the UK, with the result that many middle- and lower middle-class people, especially in England, speak with accents more or less adapted towards it. These accents are therefore known among phoneticians as modified regional accents and modified RP. Comparable accents in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and elsewhere are often referred to as NEAR-RP. It has always been a minority accent, unlikely ever to have been spoken by more than 3–4% of the British population. British phoneticians and linguists have often described it as a ‘regionless’ accent in the UK and especially in England, in that it is not possible to tell which part of the country an RP speaker comes from; it is never, however, described as a ‘classless’ accent, because it identifies the speaker as a member of the middle or upper classes. Because it is class-related, it is socially and politically controversial and can lead to embarrassment when discussed.

General background

RP is often taken to have existed for a relatively long time, evolving from a prestigious accent well established in England by the 17c, when comparisons began to be made between the speech of the court and the nobility in LONDON and that of their peers from the provinces. John Aubrey (Brief Lives, mid-17c) provides a hearsay report that Sir Walter Raleigh had a Devon accent; Samuel JOHNSON in the 18c is on record as speaking with a Staffordshire accent. Although there was an increasingly homogeneous and fashionable style of speech in the capital in the 18–19c, little is known about it. It probably served in part at least as a model for the middle classes and may have been common at such ancient public schools as Eton, Harrow, Rugby, and Winchester, but there is no evidence that a uniform accent was used or promoted in these schools until the later 19c. However, by the beginning of the 20c, it was well established, and in 1917, at the height of the First World War, Jones defined his model for English as that ‘most usually heard in everyday speech in the families of Southern English persons whose menfolk have been educated at the great public boarding-schools’, and called it Public School Pronunciation (PSP).

The heyday of Empire, approximately 1890–1940, was also the high point of RP, which has been described by such terms as ‘patrician’ and ‘proconsular’. Its possession was a criterion for the selection of young men as potential officers during the First World War and it has been the accent favoured for recruits to the Foreign Office and other services representing the British nation (largely drawn from the public schools, with a slight enlargement of the catchment area in recent years). Newcomers to the British establishment have tended to ensure that their children acquire RP by sending them to the ‘right’ schools or, especially in the past in the case of girls, to elocution teachers. In these schools the accent has never been overtly taught, but appears to have been indirectly encouraged and often promoted through peer pressure that has included mockery of any other form of SPEECH. It has been the voice of national announcers and presenters on the BBC since its founding in the 1920s, but in the 1970s–80s there has been a move towards modified regional accents among announcers and presenters, and towards distinct (but generally modified) regional accents among presenters on popular radio channels and meteorologists and sports commentators on television.

Generalities and characteristics

(1) The description of RP in A. C. Gimson, An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English ( Edward Arnold, 3rd edition, 1980), is widely regarded as standard. Its 4th edition (1990) has been revised by Susan Ramsaran. (2) RP is often used as a reference norm for the description of other varieties of English. An idealized representation has been available for this and other purposes for at least 20 years, with minor differences in the house styles of such publishers as Oxford University Press and Longman. A comparison between RP and ‘GenAm’ (General American) is a key element of John C. Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (1990). (3) RP differs little from other accents of English in the pronunciation of consonants, which are 24 in number. It is a non-rhotic accent that includes the linking/intrusive /r/ (widely noted in such phrases as law/r and order), which is not however taught as part of the EFL/ESL pronunciation model. (4) Wells (above) lists the following 22 basic values of RP vowels: /I/ as in kit, bid, hymn, intend, basic; /e/ as in dress, bed; /æ/ as in trap, bad; /ɒ/ as in lot, odd, wash; /ʌ/ as in strut, bud, love; /ʊ/ as in foot, good, put; /iː/ as in fleece, sea, machine; /eɪ/ as in face, day, steak; /aɪ/ as in price, high, try; /ɔɪ/ as in choice, boy; /uː/ as in goose, two, blue; /əʊ/ as in goat, show, no; /aʊ/ as in mouth, now; /ɪə/ as in near, here, serious; /eə/ as in square, fair, various; /ɑː/ as in start, father; /ɔː/ as in thought, law, north, war; /ʊə/ as in cure, poor, jury; /ʒː/ as in nurse, stir; /i/ as in happy, radiation, glorious; /ə/ as in the first vowel of about and the last of comma; /u/ in influence, situation, annual.

Current situation

Although RP continues to be socially pre-eminent in Britain, and especially England, it has in recent years become less monolithic both phonetically and socially. Phoneticians recognize several varieties and also a generation gap. In the introduction to the 14th edition of the EPD (1977), Gimson noted of RP that its ‘regional base remains valid and it continues to have wide intelligibility throughout Britain … [but there] has been a certain dilution of the original concept of RP, a number of local variants formerly excluded by the definition having now to be admitted as of common and acceptable usage. Such an extended scope of usage is difficult to define.’ He retained the name, however, because of its ‘currency in books on present-day English’. Even so, the observations of the phonetician David Abercrombie in 1951 still largely apply:
This R.P. stands in strong contrast to all the other ways of pronouncing Standard English put together. In fact, English people are divided, by the way they talk, into three groups; first, R.P. speakers of Standard English—those [regarded as being] without an accent; second, non- R.P. speakers of Standard English—those with an accent; and third, dialect speakers. I believe this to be a situation which is not paralleled in any other country anywhere (‘R.P. and Local Accent’, in Studies in Linguistics and Phonetics, 1965).


In the 15th edition of the EPD (1997), Peter Roach and James Hartman have replaced ‘the archaic name Received Pronunciation’ with BBC English, to contrast with Network English for AmE. The system remains, however, essentially the same.

RP and EFL

Because most British teachers of English have spoken with RP or modified-RP accents, overseas learners have until recently tended to assume that it is the majority accent of BrE. It retains its position as the preferred target for COMMONWEALTH ESL learners, although in countries such as India and Singapore local pronunciations with a degree of prestige have emerged and may in due course replace it or operate alongside it. In EFL, it competes more and more with equivalent forms of AmE, but is strongly buttressed by the investment in RP made by British ELT publishers, especially in learners' dictionaries. It is generally selected as a matter of course as the reference norm for discussing spoken BrE (and often other varieties of English), as well as for such activities as automatic speech synthesis, but since most British people do not speak or even know RP as a coherent system, general statements about BrE keyed to Received Pronunciation can often be misleading and confusing.

See ADVANCED, AMERICAN ENGLISH AND BRITISH ENGLISH, AUSTRALIAN ENGLISH, CLIPPED, ENGLISH IN ENGLAND, R, INTRUSIVE R, LINKING R, KENSINGTON, L-SOUNDS, NEW ZEALAND ENGLISH, OXFORD ACCENT, RHOTIC AND NON-RHOTIC, R-SOUNDS, SCOTTISH ENGLISH, SOUTH AFRICAN ENGLISH, TEFL.

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Messianic movements

Messianic movements. Movements centred on the Jewish hope for the coming of the messiah. Jesus of Nazareth was believed by his Christian followers to be the messiah. According to Josephus, at the end of the 1st cent. BCE, Judas the Galilean condemned the people for ‘consenting to pay tribute to the Romans and tolerating mortal masters after having God for their Lord’. Slightly later, other claimants came forward, e.g. Theudas and a Jew from Egypt ‘who gained for himself the reputation of a prophet’. The revolt against Rome in 66 CE must be seen in the context of messianic aspiration, and in the uprising of 132 CE, the great Rabbi Akiva recognized Simeon Bar Kokhba as the king–messiah. Further claimants arose, both in Muslim lands (such as the 7th-cent. Abu Isa), and in Christian Europe (e.g. the Karaite Kohen Solomon in the 12th cent.). The 12th cent. in particular saw many messianic movements, possibly induced by Crusader violence. One claimant, Moses Al-Dari, was even admired by Maimonides, and David Alroy persuaded the sophisticated Jews of Baghdad of his authenticity. Abraham b. Samuel Abulafia saw himself as the forerunner of the messiah in the 13th cent. and Hasdai Crescas believed that the messiah had been born in Castile. Messianic expectations continued to be aroused in the late Middle Ages until the time of the great kabbalistic claimant, Shabbetai Zevi, in the 17th cent. See also MESSIAH.

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Frug, Simeon Samuel

Simeon Samuel Frug (sĬmyôn´ səmōōēl´ frōōk), 1860–1916, Russian-Jewish lyricist and writer. His poems, dealing mainly with Zionist themes, appeared in Russian and Jewish periodicals under various pseudonyms.

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received pronunciation

received pronunciation the standard form of British English pronunciation, based on educated speech in southern England, widely accepted as a standard elsewhere.

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