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In Search of RP Speakers February 12, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Accents, English, Skype.

It was Friday night, the time to host my ad-hoc skypecast again. In the past two weeks, I hosted the ‘Learn a Language Now’ skypecasts to talk about all kinds of languages. This time, I wanted to do something different. I created a skypecast called ‘In Search of RP English Speakers’, with the following description:

“I don’t speak RP (BBC/Queen’s) English, but I would love to chat with anyone who does. In fact, I wonder if they still exist outside the BBC studio and the Buckingham Palace.”

Received Pronunciation (RP) is a form of pronunciation of the English language which has been long perceived as uniquely prestigious among British accents and is the usual accent taught to non-native speakers learning British English.

Most people joining the skypecast did not have a clue what ‘RP English’ was. Some got the idea when I mentioned the Queen’s English or the BBC English. I managed to get hold of four people from the UK altogether, which was a bit over my expectation since it was very early in the morning in their time zone. Three of them were British natives but none of them speak RP. In fact, they told me that if they hear someone speaking RP on the streets, they would think the person is trying to be ‘classy’ or something.

Although RP is still commonly used in foreign English schools, people in Britain hardly speak the accent anymore. I have read reports claiming that only about 3% of the British population speaks it today. Even BBC itself claims to be losing its speakers:

“If nothing else, it is simply no longer the case that most of the voices that come out of our TV sets are speaking RP. Perhaps the last bastion of RP on the BBC is the news, which still requires maximum clarity and the widest possible range of comprehension.”

Even the Queen herself has recently been identified of her accent change, as well as other members in the Royal family. Personally, I find the report ridiculous. It compared the Queen’s speeches which were five decades apart. Everyone changes the way he speaks over such a long period of time.

I often bring up the subject of English accents when I have chance to talk to people who are learning English. Most of them give me the impression that at their levels, they don’t care about adopting which accent, as long as it is not their own foreign accents. They also admit that although they love to hear the BBC English, they would rather go with the American accent.

In the skypecast, I expressed my sadness about seeing RP go extinct, as it is likely to be the case in the near future. Well, I guess all languages change through time. There is nothing much we can do about it, except to accept the fact and go with the trend.



1. chris(mandarin_student) - February 15, 2007

My mum speaks it. I assume you mean the type of speech the women has on the those audio files that many Chinese people seem to cherish for practicing pronounciation (also 1950s-60s BBC Radio and TV). It was her ticket to working in a Solicitors office when she left school (not easy from a relatively poor background).
And then spending a couple of years working in Germany as a young women. She learnt it from the radio.

I had to use it at home as a child and outside the home quickly dropped into whatever everyone else used (we moved a few times).
I actually believe that this help my current learning a lot although people don’t tend to go along with this. For example a very stong Bristol accent actually contains a retroflexive R (a least the way I learned to say it) not the R used as the end of words but the one used in words like ‘prayer’. You would have to delve into some dodgy areas of the City to hear that these days though I think.

I could probably learn it again fairly quickly (not a high priority) and my usual speech now is I suppose best decribed as relatively posh sounding South East (maybe ‘estuary’) English. One Chinese lady I spoke to did get a little nostalgic though and spoke about me reminding her of the male voice on language tape she used years ago.

It is not just the accent but the choice of words. My dad told me once that when he was courting my mum he was surprised when she turned around to her annoying younger brother and said “stop being so counfounded boisterous!”

Perhaps we should talk on Skype sometime, I haven’t got it but I expect I am somewhat closer than guys on your Skypecast. Either way I could demonstrate the Bristol ‘prayer’. I would happily trade for my first couple of Cantonese words.

2. edwinlaw - February 15, 2007

Actually, a guy from Brazil mentioned in the skypecast that he used to listen to some English learner’s tapes when he was young. The speaker spoke RP.

Yes, I would love to talk with you in Skype. We can practice Mandarin together too!

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