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Received Pronunciation - Speak Posh like the Queen

If you read my blog on relative clauses last week, you will have seen the fantastic video of a 1950s BBC newsreader speaking with a ‘Received Pronunciation’ (RP) accent. This is sometimes called ‘The Queen’s English’, as it is the ‘posh’ accent used by the Queen and members of the upper classes in the UK that have been educated at schools like Eton, which cost a lot of money to attend.

Loads of students have said to me over the years that they want to ‘speak like the Queen’ or speak ‘Oxford English’. Well, the fact is that even the Queen has changed her accent over the years in an attempt to sound less aristocratic.

Look at this video of her Christmas Speech from 1957. Listen to the way the Queen says ‘often’ at 0:55. If you know phonemic symbols, then it is something like this /ɔ:fən/. It actually sounds like she might be saying another word -‘orphan’… which is a child who has no parents.

Nowadays, most people (and even the Queen) would pronounce the word ‘often’ like /ɒfən/ or /ɒftən/… both are accepted – with or without pronouncing the ‘t’
The Queen also says /lɔ:st/ at 1:55, instead of the current ‘lost’ /lɒst/ in another example of RP that sounds extremely old-fashioned these days.

You can hear how the Queen speaks now in the clip from her Christmas Speech in 2010. Her RP accent has definitely changed. Can you hear how she sounds a bit more approachable and less harsh now?

After the huge success of the film The King’s Speech at the Oscars, there is perhaps renewed interest and fascination in speaking ‘correctly’ like the King of England. This week you will be able to hear lots of ‘posh’ RP accents when Prince William takes his vows and gets married at Westminster Abbey. When you hear Kate Middleton speaking, you might even think that she speaks with a posher accent than William.

The Received Pronunciation accent is not an official way of speaking, but because school children ‘learn’ this accent at the most expensive schools in England, it used to be, and to some extent still remains, a sign of ‘a good education’ and a ‘certain social position’. However, if you have a Received Pronunciation accent that is too posh nowadays, then people think it is ridiculous and possibly that you are a stupid aristocrat with outdated opinions.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a comedy sketch from a very popular show from a few years ago.

So, maybe it’s not the best idea to want to speak Received Pronunciation like the Queen. However, if you want to know about phonemic script or speak understandable British English then you can learn both of these things at SGI in London this summer. See you there!

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