[Thursday 03 January, 2013]
Most accents tell you where someone is from - Scotland, Liverpool, Australia, the East Midlands, or wherever - but within Britain, there’s one accent which doesn’t give you any geographical information at all. This accent is called Received Pronunciation, and it’s usually referred to in short, as RP.
It’s an accent which has long been associated with royalty, government, the law courts, the Church of England, Oxford and Cambridge, the public schools, and the BBC. In the days of the British Empire, it was the accent which travelled round the world. It’s called ‘received’ because it has been passed down by the ‘elite’ groups in Britain, ever since it developed a few hundred years ago as the accent favoured by the court and the upper classes.
These days, RP is spoken by very few people in Britain - less than 3 per cent of the population use it now. Many people have replaced it with a ‘mixed’ accent - a mix of RP and a regional accent, called ‘modified’ RP. My own accent is like that - a mix of North Wales, Liverpool, and RP. I say cup with a northern ‘uh’ in the middle, but I often say bath with an RP ‘ah’.
However, despite the falling numbers, RP is still the chief prestige accent of the country. It’s the only British accent which is routinely taught to foreigners, for example, and it’s still the one you’ll hear most often from judges, bishops, BBC presenters, and other members of the country’s great institutions. Do you use RP? Do any of your teachers?