RP/BBC English or British English as a standard language

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Chapter 1. RP/BBC English as the British national standard of pronunciation

1.1 Socio-historical survey of RP/BBC English

1.2 Phonological and phonetic dimensions of RP/BBC English

Chapter 2. British English as a standard of pronunciation in Great Britain

2.1 History

2.2 Dialects and accents

2.3 Regional

2.4 Standardization

Chapter 3. Cockney as an example of a broad accent of British English

Chapter 4. Black British as one of the most widespread dialects in Great Britain

Chapter 5. Differences in pronunciation between British and American English

Chapter 6. Estuary English as one of the dialects of British English

Chapter 7. Chief differences between RP and regional accents of British English






All the sounds in all languages are always in process of change. During those times when people from different regions communicated with each other not often it was natural that the speech of all communities did not develop in one direction or at the same rate. Moreover different parts of the country were subjected to different extreme influences which were the reasons for different phonetic structures of the language. Especially for the last five centuries in Great Britain has existed the notion that one kind of pronunciation of English is preferable socially to others. One regional accent began to acquire social prestige. For reasons of politics commerce and the presence of the Court it was the pronunciation of the south-east of England and more particularly to that of the London Region that this prestige was attached. This pronunciation is called Received Pronunciation which is regarded as a model for correct pronunciation particularly for educated formal speech.

It is to be noticed that the role of RP in the English-speaking world has changed very considerably in the last century. Over 300 million people now speak English as their first language and of this number native RP speakers form only a minute proportion. George Bernard Shaw said that the United States and United Kingdom are “two countries divided by a common language” [14].

Many scientists such as D. Jones J.C. Wells J. Gimson S. Johnson S. Jeffries J. Maidment D considered RP/BBC to be an important issue to pay their attention to. The object of this research is RP as a norm of pronunciation of British English and its accents and dialects. The subject of the research is devoted to the peculiarities of the development of RP from D. Jones to Wells.

The practical value of the research consists in providing different approaches to the problem of RP in Modern English. The material which was used to supply this research with examples is the following: George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (film “My fair lady”) Linton Kwesi Johnson’s poem "Sonny's Lettah" and the BBC news. This turn paper consists of the introductory seven chapters conclusion summary and the list of used literature.

Seven chapters are:

1.  RP/BBC English as the British national standard of pronunciation

2.  British English as a standard of pronunciation in Great Britain

3.  Cockney as an example of a broad accent of British English

4.  Black British as one of the most widespread dialects in Great Britain

5.  Differences in pronunciation between British and American English

6.  Estuary English as one of the dialects of British English

7.  Chief differences between RP and regional accents of British English

Chapter 1. RP/BBC English as the British national standard of pronunciation


1.1 Socio-historical survey of RP/BBC English

Gimson claims that the historical origins of RP go back to the 16th-17th century recommendations that the speech model should be that provided by the educated pronunciation of the court and the capital [Gimson 1980]. Thus the roots of RP in London more particularly the pronunciation of the London region and the Home countries lying around London within 60 miles: Middlesex Essex Kent Surrey. By the 18th century a prestigious pronunciation model was characterized as the speech " received by the polite circles of society " [Gimson: 1977].

By the 19th century London English had increasingly acquired social prestige losing be of its local characteristics. It was finally fixed as the pronunciation of the ruling class. According to Leither in the mid 19th century there was an increase in education in particular there occurred the rise of public schools (since 1864 Public School Act). These schools became important agencies in the transmission of Southern English as the form with highest prestige. Since that time London English or Southern English was termed as Classroom English Public School English or Educated English [Liether: 1982]. That was a forceful normalization movement towards the establishment of Educated Southern English as the standard accent. The major reasons for this were:

1)  The need for a clearly defined and recognized norm for public and other purposes;

2)  The desire to provide adequate descriptions for teaching English both as the mother tongue and a foreign language.

Professor Daniel Jones described this variety as a hoped-for standard pronunciation in the first editions of his books "The Pronunciation of English" [1909] and "Outline of English Phonetics" [1917]. By 1930 however any intention of setting up a standard of Spoken English was disclaimed by many phoneticians. The term "Standard Pronunciation" was replaced by "Received Pronunciation" which had been introduced for Southern Educated English by phonetician Ida Ward who defined it as pronunciation which " had lost all easily noticeable local differences" [Leitner: 1982]. According to Wells the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC) adopted RP for the use by its news-readers since 1920s. The country's population for more than half a century had been exposed through broadcasting to RP. Until the early 70s of the last century it was the only accent demanded in the BBC's announcers. For that reason RP often became identified in the public mind with BBC English. Only over the last 30 years both the BBC and other British national radio and TV channels have been increasingly tolerant of the accent of their broadcasters. [Wells: 1982].

1.2 Phonological and phonetic dimensions of RP/BBC English

Now we will outline main segmental features of RP/BBC English.

As for its phoneme inventory Gimson states that this accent has 20 vowels and 24 consonants. The system of vowels embraces 12 pure vowels or monophthongs: i: i æ Λ a: o o: υ u: з: ә and 8 diphthongs: ei ai oi әυ aυ iә eә υә. The system of RP consonants consists of the following two wide categories of sounds:

1) those typically associated with a noise component: p b t d k g f v θ ð s z ʃ з h tʃ dз;

2) those without a noise component which may share many phonetic characteristics with vowels - 7 sonorants : m n ŋ 1 r j w.

Measurements of text frequency of occurrence of RP vowels and consonants display the following picture: [Gimson: 2001]

According to the phonotactic specification of /r/ occurrence RP is a non-rhotic or r-less accent i.e. /r/ does not occur after a vowel or at the end of the words. It may be claimed that /r/ in RP has a limited distribution being restricted in its occurrence to pre-vocalic positions.

Prof. J C. Wells in his article "Cockneyfication of RP" discusses several of recent and current sound changes in RP. He considers in turn:

1) the decline of weak /I/

2) glottalling

A lot of bright examples of glottalling we can find in George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” ( film “My Fair Lady”):

e.g. So cheer up Captain; and buy a flower off a poor girl. / e.g. What’s that? That ain’t proper writing. /e.g. Buy a flower kind gentleman. /

3) 1-vocalization

4) intrusive /r/

5) yod coalescence

e.g. Then what did you take my words for? / e.g. Now you know don’t you? I’m come to have lessons I am. / e.g. Would you mind if I take a seat? /

6) assorted lexical changes.

V. Parashchuk claims that there is a tendency towards the so-called smoothing (tightening reduction) of the sequences / aiə / /aυә/ ("thripthongs") the medial element of which may be elided. They are sometimes reduced to a long open vowel e.g. power /pa:/ tower /ta:/ fire /fa:/ our /a:/. Though the full forms have been retained in the latest edition of the LPD as the main variants their reduced counterparts are very common in casual RP: /aυә - aә - a:/.

There is a tendency though not a very consistent one to make the diphthong /υә/ a positional allophone of /o:/ . It is increasingly replaced by /o:/ e.g. the most common form of sure has /o:/ with a similar drift being true for poor mour tour and their derivatives. Rare words such as gourd dour tend to retain /υә/without a common /o:/ variant. Words in which /υә/ is preceded by a consonant plus /j/ are relatively resistant to this shift e.g. pure curious fury furious.

There is a yod-dropping tendency after /s/ in the words like suit super and their derivatives e.g. suitcase suitable supreme superior supermarket - these have the dominant form without /j/. In words where /j/ occurs after the consonants other than /s/ it still remains the dominant form in RP e.g. enthusiasm news student. [Parashchuk: 2005]

Chapter 2. British English as a standard of pronunciation in Great Britain


British English or UK English or English English (BrE BE) is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English language used in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere. There is confusion whether the term refers to English as spoken in the British Isles or to English as spoken in Great Britain though in the case of Ireland there are further distinctions peculiar to Hiberno-English. There are slight regional variations in formal written English in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in written English within the United Kingdom and this could be described as "British English". According to Tom McArthur in the Oxford Guide to World English (p. 45) "for many people...especially in England [the phrase British English] is tautologous " and it shares "all the ambiguities and tensions in the word British and as a result can be used and interpreted in two ways more broadly or more narrowly within a range of blurring and ambiguity" [11]. English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to England by Germanic settlers from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the northern Netherlands. Initially Old English was a diverse group of dialects reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of England. One of these dialects Late West Saxon eventually came to dominate. Thus English developed into a "borrowing" language of great flexibility and with a huge vocabulary. Professor Sally Johnson admits that dialects and accents vary between the four countries of the United Kingdom and also within the countries themselves. There are also differences in the English spoken by different socio-economic groups in any particular region. The major divisions are normally classified as English English (or English as spoken in England which comprises Southern English dialects Midlands English dialects and Northern English dialects) Welsh English Scottish English and the closely related dialects of the Scots language. The various British dialects also differ in the words that they have borrowed from other languages. The Scottish and Northern English dialects include many words originally borrowed from Old Norse and a few borrowed from Gaelic. There is no singular British accent just as there is no singular American accent; in fact the United Kingdom is home to a wide variety of regional accents and dialects to a greater extent than the United States. Stuart Jeffries claims that the form of English most commonly associated with educated speakers in the southern counties of England is called the "Received Standard" and its accent is called Received Pronunciation (RP). It derives from a mixture of the Midland and Southern dialects which were spoken in London during the Middle Ages and is frequently used as a model for teaching English to foreign learners. Although educated speakers from elsewhere within the UK may not speak with an RP accent it is now a class-dialect more than a local dialect. The best speakers of Standard English are those whose pronunciation and language generally least betray their locality. It may also be referred to as "the Queen's (or King's) English" "Public School English" or "BBC English" as this was originally the form of English used on radio and television although a wider variety of accents can be heard these days. Only approximately two percent of Britons speak RP and it has evolved quite markedly over the last 40 years [11]. Even in the South East there are significantly different accents; the London Cockney accent is strikingly different from RP and its rhyming slang can be difficult for outsiders to understand. Since the mass immigration to Northamptonshire in the 1940s and its close accent borders it has become a source of various accent developments. There nowadays one finds an accent known locally as the Kettering accent which is a mixture of many different local accents including East Midlands East Anglian Scottish and Cockney. In addition in the town of Corby five miles (8 km) north one can find Corbyite which unlike the Kettering accent is largely based on Scottish. This is due to the influx of Scottish steelworkers. As with English around the world the English language as used in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland is governed by convention rather than formal code: there is no equivalent body to the Académie française or the Real Academia Española and the authoritative dictionaries (for example Oxford English Dictionary Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Chambers Dictionary Collins Dictionary) record usage rather than prescribe it. In addition vocabulary and usage change with time; words are freely borrowed from other languages and other strains of English and neologisms are frequent [11].

Chapter 3. Cockney as an example of a broad accent of British English

According to V. Parashchuk an example of an accent representing much-localized non-standard English is Cockney the broadest London working-class speech.

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