A national language has two material forms: written and spoken. The spoken form has its national pronunciation standard. A standard may be defined as “a socially accepted variety of a language established by a codified norm of correctness” [1, p. 68]. There are other terms denoting standard national pronunciation such as orthoepic norm (from the word “orthoepy” – the correct pronunciation of words of a language), orthoepic standard, literary pronunciation.
Since the settlers, Anglo-Saxons, came from Northern Europe, there have been a number of dialects and accents in all parts of the UK. The language that has been spoken in different parts of the UK has always been very different ever since Anglo-Saxons arrived there. But for certain geographical, economic, political and cultural reasons one of the dialects developed into the standard language of a nation (literary language) and its pronunciation or its accent became – the received standard pronunciation [2, p. 132]. This was exactly the case of London dialect whose accent became the “RP” (“Received Pronunciation”) of Britain. The national standard pronunciation of the UK developed mainly on the London accent, because London had already been an important centre of commerce and industry in the 14th century and continued to expand rapidly. The speech of aristocracy and the court phonetically was that of the London area. Then it lost its local characteristics and was finally fixed as a ruling-class accent, often referred to as “King’s English”.
But form the middle of the 19th century there was an accent that emerged that we now call Received Pronunciation or RP for short . This accent emerged in the public schools. From the early 1900’s an increasingly large number of middle class people started to send their children to such public schools (boarding schools). As a result, a lot of middle class children, who were going to these schools, were aspired to a similar type of education and the similar standards. In those schools the accent was free from any regional elements – it was a neutral accent . The children were taught elocution pronunciation; therefore they were brought up to speak like each other.
This accent emerged in the 19th century and became more popular in the 20th century as a result probably of the fact that the BBC (The British Broadcasting Company) adopted it – hence the origins of the term BBC English. The British Broadcasting Company was founded in the 1920s. In 1926 the first general manager John C.W. Reith established The Advisory Committee on Spoken English to decide what type of speech would be broadcasted on the BBC. There were some very famous people in the committee: poet Laureate Robert Bridges chaired it and D. Jones, G. B. Shaw, and later H. C. Wyld were, among others, all members of it. Members of the committee discussed whether they should use the variety of accents or this newish accent – Received Pronunciation. Committee believed Standard English, spoken with an RP accent, would be the most widely understood variety of English, both here in the UK and overseas. Members of the committee were also conscious that choosing a regional accent might run the risk of alienating some listeners.
Therefore, a committee adopted the RP and for the first 50-60 years of the existence of the BBC the only voice that was heard on the radio and on the first days of television was this regionally neutral middle-class English accent . Therefore it was adopted by the BBC everybody in the world heard this voice. Large numbers of speakers who wanted to become part of the middle class adopted this accent or tried as best they could to imitate this Received Pronunciation accent .
The terms Received Pronunciation and BBC Pronunciation refer to the same thing – the Standard English Pronunciation. The terms are different but the pronunciation they imply is the same. There are two great dictionaries Longman Pronunciation Dictionary and Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary, in which these two different terms are used. The term Received Pronunciation is used in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary by John Cristopher Wells, while the BBC is used in Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary (P. Roach, J. Hartman, J. Setter).
In the first edition of Daniel Jones pronunciation dictionary (1917), Daniel Jones described the type of pronunciation recorded as “that most usually heard in everyday speech in the families of Southern English whose menfolk have been educated at the great public boarding schools” [3, p. 5]. Accordingly, he felt able to refer to his model as “Public School pronunciation” (PSP). He had by 1926, however, abandoned the term PSP in favour of “Received Pronunciation” (RP). The editor of the 14th edition, A.C. Gimson, commented in 1977 “Such definition of RP is hardly tenable today. If I have retained the traditional, though imprecise, term ‘received pronunciation’, it is because the label has such wide currency in books on present day English and because it is a convenient name for an accent which remains generally acceptable and intelligible within Britain” [3, p. 5]. This is exactly the reason for John Wells choosing the term Received Pronunciation in his dictionary.
The time has come to abandon the archaic name Received Pronunciation. First of all, the speech of BBC speakers doesn’t carry form most people the connotations of high social class and privilege that PSP and RP have had in the past. An additional advantage in concentration on the accent of the broadcasters is that it is easy to gain access to examples, and the sound quality is usually of a very high standard. That is why the term BBC English is used in Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary, edited by Peter Roach, James Hartman and Jane Setter, instead of the term Received Pronunciation. However, the term BBC English has been criticized by John C. Wells, as the BBC is now actively showing features of regional accents – hence the term Regional Received Pronunciation.
Here the emergency of Standard Pronunciation in the UK is presented in the form of a list:
1. London English – before 16th century;
2. King’s English – 16th-18th century;
3. Public School English – 19th century;
4. Received Pronunciation – 1926;
6. BBC English – 1997.
Nowadays only about 2-5 % of the UK population speak Received Pronunciation. Although it is most widely known accent of the UK, the most widely recognized (because people associate it with television and radio), it is still not the most widely used accent in the UK.
List of references:
1. Macanalay K.: Language, Social Class and Education. – Edinburgh, 1977. P. 68
2. Vrabel T.T.: Lectures in the theoretical phonetics of the English language and method-guides for seminars. – Ungvár, 2009. P. 132-133
3. Jones D.: Cambridge English Pronunciation Dictionary. – 17th edition, 2011. P. 5
4. The RP English Accent – What is it, how does it sound, and who uses it? // [электронныйресурс]. – URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcIX-U5w5Ws (Accessed 23.12.20).
5. UK accent RP Received Pronunciation // [электронныйресурс]. – URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIemPxHSb6Q (Accessed 23.12.20).