Received Pronunciation
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Received Pronunciation

Received Pronunciation (RP), commonly called BBC English in North America and Standard British pronunciation or Southern British pronunciation by North American scholars,[1] is an accent of Standard English in the United Kingdom and is defined in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as "the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England",[2] although it can be heard from native speakers throughout England and Wales.[3][4]Peter Trudgill estimated in 1974 that 3 per cent of people in Britain were RP speakers,[5] but this rough estimate has been questioned by the phonetician J. Windsor Lewis.[6] Clive Upton notes higher estimates of 5% (Romaine, 2000) and 10% (Wells, 1982) but refers to all these as "guestimates" that are not based on robust research.[7]

Formerly colloquially called "(the) King's English", RP enjoys high social prestige in Britain,[8] being thought of as the accent of those with power, money, and influence, though it may be perceived negatively by some as being associated with undeserved privilege.[9][10] Since the 1960s, a greater permissiveness toward regional English varieties has taken hold in education.[11]

The study of RP is concerned exclusively with pronunciation, whereas Standard English, the Queen's English, Oxford English, and BBC English are also concerned with matters such as grammar, vocabulary, and style.


The introduction of the term Received Pronunciation is usually credited to Daniel Jones. In the first edition of the English Pronouncing Dictionary (1917), he named the accent "Public School Pronunciation", but for the second edition in 1926, he wrote, "In what follows I call it Received Pronunciation, for want of a better term."[12] However, the term had actually been used much earlier by P. S. Du Ponceau in 1818.[13] A similar term, received standard, was coined by Henry C. K. Wyld in 1927.[14] The early phonetician Alexander John Ellis used both terms interchangeably but with a much broader definition than Daniel Jones, having said "there is no such thing as a uniform eduction pron. of English, and rp. and rs. is a variable quantity differing from individual to individual, although all its varieties are 'received', understood and mainly unnoticed".[15]

According to Fowler's Modern English Usage (1965), the correct term is "'the Received Pronunciation'. The word 'received' conveys its original meaning of 'accepted' or 'approved', as in 'received wisdom'."[16]

RP is often believed to be based on the accents of southern England, but it actually has most in common with the Early Modern English dialects of the East Midlands.[] This was the most populated and most prosperous area of England during the 14th and 15th centuries. By the end of the 15th century, "Standard English" was established in the City of London.[17][18]

Alternative names

Some linguists have used the term "RP" while expressing reservations about its suitability.[19][20][21] The Cambridge-published English Pronouncing Dictionary (aimed at those learning English as a foreign language) uses the phrase "BBC Pronunciation" on the basis that the name "Received Pronunciation" is "archaic" and that BBC news presenters no longer suggest high social class and privilege to their listeners.[22] Other writers have also used the name "BBC Pronunciation".[23][24]

The phonetician Jack Windsor Lewis frequently criticises the name "Received Pronunciation" in his blog: he has called it "invidious",[25] a "ridiculously archaic, parochial and question-begging term"[26] and noted that American scholars find the term "quite curious".[1] He used the term "General British" (to parallel "General American") in his 1970s publication of A Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of American and British English and in subsequent publications.[27] Beverley Collins and Inger Mees use the term "Non-Regional Pronunciation" for what is often otherwise called RP, and reserve the term "Received Pronunciation" for the "upper-class speech of the twentieth century".[28] Received Pronunciation has sometimes been called "Oxford English", as it used to be the accent of most members of the University of Oxford.[] The Handbook of the International Phonetic Association uses the name "Standard Southern British". Page 4 reads:

Standard Southern British (where 'Standard' should not be taken as implying a value judgment of 'correctness') is the modern equivalent of what has been called 'Received Pronunciation' ('RP'). It is an accent of the south east of England which operates as a prestige norm there and (to varying degrees) in other parts of the British Isles and beyond.[29]

In her book Kipling's English History (1974) Marghanita Laski refers to this accent as "gentry". "What the Producer and I tried to do was to have each poem spoken in the dialect that was, so far as we could tell, ringing in Kipling's ears when he wrote it. Sometimes the dialect is most appropriately, Gentry. More often, it isn't."[30]


Faced with the difficulty of defining RP, some researchers have tried to distinguish between different sub-varieties:

  • Gimson (1980) proposed Conservative, General, and Advanced; Conservative RP referred to a traditional accent associated with older speakers with certain social backgrounds; General RP was considered neutral regarding age, occupation or lifestyle of the speaker; and Advanced RP referred to speech of a younger generation of speakers.[31] Later editions (e.g., Gimson 2008) use the terms General, Refined and Regional.
  • Wells (1982) refers to "mainstream RP" and "U-RP"; he suggests that Gimson's categories of Conservative and Advanced RP referred to the U-RP of the old and young respectively. However, Wells stated, "It is difficult to separate stereotype from reality" with U-RP.[32] Writing on his blog in February 2013, Wells wrote, "If only a very small percentage of English people speak RP, as Trudgill et al claim, then the percentage speaking U-RP is vanishingly small" and "If I were redoing it today, I think I'd drop all mention of 'U-RP'".[33]
  • Upton distinguishes between RP (which he equates with Wells's "mainstream RP"), Traditional RP (after Ramsaran 1990), and an even older version which he identifies with Cruttenden's "Refined RP".[34]
  • An article on the website of the British Library refers to Conservative, Mainstream and Contemporary RP.[35]


Teachers often promote the modern RP accent to non-native speakers learning British English.[36] Non-RP Britons abroad may modify their pronunciation to something closer to Received Pronunciation to allow better understanding by people unfamiliar with the diversity of British accents. They may also modify their vocabulary and grammar to approach those of Standard English for the same reason. RP serves as the standard for English in most books on general phonology and phonetics, and most dictionaries published in the United Kingdom use RP in their pronunciation schemes.[] Most British voices in apps like Siri and Google Assistant speak RP and most TV and radio stations across the UK use this accent.

In dictionaries

Most English dictionaries published in Britain (including the Oxford English Dictionary) now give phonetically transcribed RP pronunciations for all words. Pronunciation dictionaries represent a special class of dictionary giving a wide range of possible pronunciations; British pronunciation dictionaries are all based on RP, though not necessarily using that name. Daniel Jones transcribed RP pronunciations of a large number of words and names in the English Pronouncing Dictionary.[37] Cambridge University Press continues to publish this title[38], as of 2011 edited by Peter Roach, the accent having been renamed "BBC Pronunciation". Two other pronunciation dictionaries are in common use: the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary,[39] compiled by John C. Wells (using the name "Received Pronunciation"), and the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English,[40] compiled by Clive Upton. This represents an accent named BR ("British English") - based on RP, but claimed to be representative of a wider group of speakers. An earlier pronunciation dictionary by J. Windsor Lewis gives both British and American pronunciations, using the terms General British (GB) for the former and General American (GA) for the latter.[41]


Traditionally, Received Pronunciation was the "everyday speech in the families of Southern English persons whose men-folk [had] been educated at the great public boarding-schools"[42] and which conveyed no information about that speaker's region of origin before attending the school.

It is the business of educated people to speak so that no-one may be able to tell in what county their childhood was passed.

-- A. Burrell, Recitation. A Handbook for Teachers in Public Elementary School, 1891

In the 19th century, some British prime ministers still spoke with some regional features, such as William Ewart Gladstone.[43] From the 1970s onwards, attitudes towards Received Pronunciation have been changing slowly. The BBC's use of Yorkshire-born Wilfred Pickles during the Second World War (to distinguish BBC broadcasts from German propaganda) is an earlier example of the use of non-RP accents,[44] but even then Pickles modified his speech towards RP when reading the news.[45]

Although admired in some circles, RP is disliked in others. It is common in parts of Britain to regard it as a south-eastern English accent rather than a non-regional one and as a symbol of the south-east's political power in Britain.[10] A 2007 survey found that residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland tend to dislike RP.[46] It is shunned by some with left-wing political views, who may be proud of having an accent more typical of the working classes.[47]



Nasals and liquids (/m/, /n/, /?/, /r/, /l/) may be syllabic in unstressed syllables.[49] The consonant in 'row', 'arrow' in RP is generally a postalveolar approximant[49], which would normally be expressed with the sign [?] in the International Phonetic Alphabet, but the sign /r/ is nonetheless traditionally used for RP in most of the literature on the topic.

Voiceless plosives (/p/, /t/, /k/, /t?/) are aspirated at the beginning of a syllable, unless a completely unstressed vowel follows. (For example, the /p/ is aspirated in "impasse", with primary stress on "-passe", but not "compass", where "-pass" has no stress.) Aspiration does not occur when /s/ precedes in the same syllable, as in "spot" or "stop". When a sonorant /l/, /r/, /w/, or /j/ follows, this aspiration is indicated by partial devoicing of the sonorant.[50]/r/ is a fricative when devoiced.[49]

Syllable final /p/, /t/, /t?/, and /k/ may be either preceded by a glottal stop (glottal reinforcement) or, in the case of /t/, fully replaced by a glottal stop, especially before a syllabic nasal (bitten ['bn?]).[50][51] The glottal stop may be realised as creaky voice; thus, an alternative phonetic transcription of attempt [?'t?em?t] could be [?'t?emm?t].[49]

As in other varieties of English, voiced plosives (/b/, /d/, /?/, /d?/) are partly or even fully devoiced at utterance boundaries or adjacent to voiceless consonants. The voicing distinction between voiced and voiceless sounds is reinforced by a number of other differences, with the result that the two of consonants can clearly be distinguished even in the presence of devoicing of voiced sounds:

  1. Aspiration of voiceless consonants syllable-initially.
  2. Glottal reinforcement of voiceless consonants syllable-finally.
  3. Lengthening of vowels before voiced consonants.

As a result, some authors prefer to use the terms "fortis" and "lenis" in place of "voiceless" and "voiced". However, the latter are traditional and in more frequent usage.

The voiced dental fricative (/ð/) is more often a weak dental plosive; the sequence /nð/ is often realised as [n?n?] (a long dental nasal).[52][53][54]/l/ has velarised allophone ([?]) in the syllable rhyme.[55]/h/ becomes voiced ([?]) between voiced sounds.[56][57]


Monophthongs of a fairly conservative variety of RP. From Roach (2004, p. 242)
Ranges of the weak vowels in RP and GA. From Wells (2008, p. XXV)
Allophones of some RP monophthongs, from Collins & Mees (2003:92, 95, 101). The red ones occur before dark /l/,[58] and the blue one occurs before velars.[59]

Examples of short vowels: /?/ in kit, mirror and rabbit, /?/ in foot and cook, /e/ in dress and merry, /?/ in strut and curry, /æ/ in trap and marry, /?/ in lot and orange, /?/ in ago and sofa.

Examples of long vowels: /i:/ in fleece, /u:/ in goose, /e?/ in bear, /?:/ in nurse and furry, /?:/ in north, force and thought, /?:/ in father and start.

The long mid front vowel is transcribed with the traditional symbol ⟨e?⟩ in this article. The predominant realisation in contemporary RP is monophthongal.[60]

Long and short vowels

RP's long high vowels /i:/ and /u:/ are slightly diphthongised, and are often narrowly transcribed in phonetic literature as diphthongs [?i] and [?u].[61]

The terms "long" and "short" are relative to each other when applied to the vowel phonemes of RP. Vowels may be phonologically long or short (i.e. belong to the long or the short group of vowel phonemes) but their length is influenced by their context: in particular, they are shortened if a voiceless (fortis) consonant follows in the syllable, so that, for example, the vowel in 'bat' [bæ?t] is shorter than the vowel in 'bad' [bæd]. The process is known as pre-fortis clipping. Thus phonologically short vowels in one context can be phonetically longer than phonologically long vowels in another context.[49] For example, the phonologically long vowel /i:/ in 'reach' /ri:t?/ (which ends with a voiceless consonant) may be shorter than the phonologically short vowel /?/ in the word 'ridge' /r?d?/ (which ends with a voiced consonant). Wiik,[62] cited in Cruttenden (2014) published durations of English vowels with a mean value of 17.2 csec. for short vowels before voiced consonants but a mean value of 16.5 csec for long vowels preceding voiceless consonants.[63]

In natural speech, the plosives /t/ and /d/ often have no audible release utterance-finally, and voiced consonants are partly or completely devoiced (as in [b?æd?]); thus the perceptual distinction between pairs of words such as 'bad' and 'bat', or 'seed' and 'seat' rests mostly on vowel length (though the presence or absence of glottal reinforcement provides an additional cue).[64]

In addition to such length distinctions, unstressed vowels are both shorter and more centralised than stressed ones. In unstressed syllables occurring before vowels and in final position, contrasts between long and short high vowels are neutralised and short [i] and [u] occur (e.g. happy ['hæpi], throughout [u'at]).[65] The neutralisation is common throughout many English dialects, though the phonetic realisation of e.g. [i] rather than [?] (a phenomenon called happy-tensing) is not as universal.

Unstressed vowels vary in quality:

  • /i/ (as in HAPPY) ranges from close front to close-mid retracted front ;[66]
  • /u/ (as in INFLUENCE) ranges from close advanced back to close-mid retracted central ;[66] according to the phonetician Jane Setter, the typical pronunciation of this vowel is a weakly rounded, mid-centralized close back unrounded vowel, transcribed in the IPA as or simply ;[67]
  • /?/ (as in COMMA) ranges from close-mid central to open-mid central .[66]

Diphthongs and triphthongs

Diphthongs of RP. From Roach (2004, p. 242)
Diphthong Example
/e?/ (About this soundlisten) /be?/ bay
/a?/ (About this soundlisten) /ba?/ buy
// (About this soundlisten) /b/ boy
// (About this soundlisten) /b/ beau
/a?/ /ba?/ bough
// /b/ beer
// /b/ boor
(formerly //) /b/ boar

The centring diphthongs are gradually being eliminated in RP. The vowel // (as in "door", "boar") had largely merged with /?:/ by the Second World War, and the vowel // (as in "poor", "tour") has more recently merged with /?:/ as well among most speakers,[68] although the sound // is still found in conservative speakers. See poor-pour merger. The remaining centring glide // is increasingly pronounced as a monophthong [?:], although without merging with any existing vowels.[50]

The diphthong // is pronounced by some RP speakers in a noticeably different way when it occurs before /l/, if that consonant is syllable-final and not followed by a vowel (the context in which /l/ is pronounced as a "dark l"). The realization of // in this case begins with a more back, rounded and sometimes more open vowel quality; it may be transcribed as [] or []. It is likely that the backness of the diphthong onset is the result of allophonic variation caused by the raising of the back of the tongue for the /l/. If the speaker has "l-vocalization" the /l/ is realized as a back rounded vowel, which again is likely to cause backing and rounding in a preceding vowel as coarticulation effects. This phenomenon has been discussed in several blogs by John C. Wells.[69][70][71] In the recording included in this article the phrase 'fold his cloak' contains examples of the // diphthong in the two different contexts. The onset of the pre-/l/ diphthong in 'fold' is slightly more back and rounded than that in 'cloak', though the allophonic transcription does not at present indicate this.

RP also possesses the triphthongs /a/ as in tire, /a/ as in tower, // as in lower, /e/ as in layer and // as in loyal. There are different possible realisations of these items: in slow, careful speech they may be pronounced as a two-syllable triphthong with three distinct vowel qualities in succession, or as a monosyllabic triphthong. In more casual speech the middle vowel may be considerably reduced, by a process known as smoothing, and in an extreme form of this process the triphthong may even be reduced to a single vowel, though this is rare, and almost never found in the case of //.[72] In such a case the difference between /a/, /a/, and /?:/ in tower, tire, and tar may be neutralised with all three units realised as [?:] or [ä:]. This type of smoothing is known as the tower-tire, tower-tar and tire-tar mergers.

As two syllables Triphthong Loss of mid-element Further simplified as Example
[a?.?] [a] [a:?] [a:] tire
[.?] [] [?:?] [?:] tower
[.?] [] [?:?] [?:] lower
[e?.?] [e] [?:?] [?:] layer
[.?] [] [?:?] [?:] loyal

BATH vowel

There are differing opinions as regards whether /æ/ in the BATH lexical set can be considered RP. The pronunciations with /?:/ are invariably accepted as RP.[73] The English Pronouncing Dictionary does not admit /æ/ in BATH words and the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary lists them with a § marker of non-RP status.[74] John Wells wrote in a blog entry on 16 March 2012 that, when growing up in the north of England, he used /?:/ in "bath" and "glass", and considers this the only acceptable phoneme in RP.[75] Others have argued that /æ/ is too categorical in the north of England to be excluded. Clive Upton believes that /æ/ in these words must be considered within RP and has called the opposing view "south-centric".[76] Upton's Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English gives both variants for BATH words. A. F. Gupta's survey of mostly middle-class students found that /æ/ was used by almost everyone who was from clearly north of the isogloss for BATH words. She wrote, "There is no justification for the claims by Wells and Mugglestone that this is a sociolinguistic variable in the north, though it is a sociolinguistic variable on the areas on the border [the isogloss between north and south]".[77] In a study of speech in West Yorkshire, K. M. Petyt wrote that "the amount of /?:/ usage is too low to correlate meaningfully with the usual factors", having found only two speakers (both having attended boarding schools in the south) who consistently used /?:/.[78]

Jack Windsor Lewis has noted that the Oxford Dictionary's position has changed several times on whether to include short /æ/ within its prescribed pronunciation.[79] The BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names uses only /?:/, but its author, Graham Pointon, has stated on his blog that he finds both variants to be acceptable in place names.[80]

Some research has concluded that many people in the North of England have a dislike of the /?:/ vowel in BATH words. A. F. Gupta wrote, "Many of the northerners were noticeably hostile to /?r?:s/, describing it as 'comical', 'snobbish', 'pompous' or even 'for morons'."[77] On the subject, K. M. Petyt wrote that several respondents "positively said that they did not prefer the long-vowel form or that they really detested it or even that it was incorrect".[81] Mark Newbrook has assigned this phenomenon the name "conscious rejection", and has cited the BATH vowel as "the main instance of conscious rejection of RP" in his research in West Wirral.[82]

French words

John Wells has argued that, as educated British speakers often attempt to pronounce French names in a French way, there is a case for including // (as in bon), and /æ?/ and /:/ (as in vingt-et-un), as marginal members of the RP vowel system.[83] He also argues against including other French vowels on the grounds that very few British speakers succeed in distinguishing the vowels in bon and banc, or in rue and roue.[83]

Alternative notation

Not all reference sources use the same system of transcription. In particular:

  • /æ/ as in trap is also written /a/.[84]
  • /e/ as in dress is also written /?/.[84][85]
  • /?/ as in cup is also written /?/.[84]
  • /?/ as in foot is also written /?/.[84]
  • /?:/ as in nurse is also written /?:/.[84]
  • /a?/ as in price is also written //.[84]
  • /a?/ as in mouse is also written //[84]
  • /e?/ as in square is also written //, and is also sometimes treated as a long monophthong /?:/.[84]
  • /e?/ as in face is also written //.[84]
  • // as in near is also written /?:/.[84]
  • // before /l/ in a closed syllable as in goal is also written //.[84]
  • /u:/ as in goose is also written /?:/.[84]

Most of these variants are used in the transcription devised by Clive Upton for the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993) and now used in many other Oxford University Press dictionaries.

The linguist Geoff Lindsey has argued that the system of transcription for RP has become outdated and has proposed a new system as a replacement.[86][87]

Historical variation

Like all accents, RP has changed with time. For example, sound recordings and films from the first half of the 20th century demonstrate that it was usual for speakers of RP to pronounce the /æ/ sound, as in land, with a vowel close to [?], so that land would sound similar to a present-day pronunciation of lend. RP is sometimes known as the Queen's English, but recordings show that even Queen Elizabeth II has changed her pronunciation over the past 50 years, no longer using an [?]-like vowel in words like land.[88]

A comparison of the formant values of /i: æ ? u:/ for older (black) and younger (light blue) RP speakers. From de Jong et al. (2007, p. 1814)

Some changes in RP during the 20th century include:

  • Words such as CLOTH, gone, off, often were pronounced with /?:/ instead of /?/, so that often and orphan were homophones (see lot-cloth split). The Queen still uses the older pronunciations,[89] but it is rare to hear them on the BBC any more.
  • There was a distinction between horse and hoarse with an extra diphthong // appearing in words like hoarse, FORCE, and pour.[90]. The symbols used are slightly different. Wright classifies the sound in fall, law, saw' as /o:/ and that in more, soar, etc. as /o?/.
  • The DRESS vowel and the first element of the diphthong in FACE was lowered from mid [e?] to open-mid [?].[91]
  • Any final y on a word is now represented as an /i/ - a symbol to cover either the traditional /?/ or the more modern /i:/, the latter of which has been common in the south of England for some time.[92]
  • Before the Second World War, the vowel of cup was a back vowel close to cardinal [?] but has since shifted forward to a central position so that [?] is more accurate; phonetic transcription of this vowel as ⟨?⟩ is common partly for historical reasons.[93]
  • In the 1960s, the transcription // started to be used for the GOAT vowel instead of Daniel Jones's /o?/, reflecting a change in pronunciation since the beginning of the century.[94]

The change in RP may be observed in the home of "BBC English". The BBC accent of the 1950s is distinctly different from today's: a news report from the 1950s is recognisable as such, and a mock-1950s BBC voice is used for comic effect in programmes wishing to satirise 1950s social attitudes such as the Harry Enfield Show and its "Mr. Cholmondley-Warner" sketches.

More recently, in speakers born between 1981 and 1993, the vowel /?/ shifted up approaching in quality.[95] The vowels /?/ and /u:/ have undergone fronting and reduction in the amount of lip-rounding[96] (phonetically, this can be transcribed and , respectively), while /æ/ has become more open .[97][98][99]

Comparison with other varieties of English

  • Like most other varieties of English outside Northern England, RP has undergone the foot-strut split (pairs nut/put differ).[100]
  • RP is a non-rhotic accent, so /r/ does not occur unless followed immediately by a vowel (pairs such as caught/court and formally/formerly are homophones, save that formerly may be said with a hint of /r/ to help to differentiate it, particularly where stressed for reasons of emphasising past status e.g. "He was FORMERLY in charge here.").[101]
  • Unlike most North American accents of English, RP has not undergone the Mary-marry-merry, nearer-mirror, or hurry-furry mergers: all these words are distinct from each other.[102]
  • Unlike many North American accents, RP has not undergone the father-bother or cot-caught mergers.
  • RP does not have yod-dropping after /n/, /t/, /d/, /z/ and /?/, but most speakers of RP variably or consistently yod-drop after /s/ and /l/new, tune, dune, resume and enthusiasm are pronounced /nju:/, /tju:n/, /dju:n/, /r?'zju:m/ and /?n'?ju:ziæzm/ rather than /nu:/, /tu:n/, /du:n/, /r?'zu:m/ and /?n'?u:ziæzm/. This contrasts with many East Anglian and East Midland varieties of English language in England and with many forms of American English, including General American. Hence also pursuit is commonly heard with /j/ and revolutionary less so but more commonly than evolution. For a subset of these, a yod has been lost over time: for example, in all of the words beginning suit, however the yod is sometimes deliberately reinserted in historical or stressed contexts such as "a suit in chancery" or "suitable for an aristocrat".
  • The flapped variant of /t/ and /d/ (as in much of the West Country, Ulster, most North American varieties including General American, Australian English, and the Cape Coloured dialect of South Africa) is not used very often.
  • RP has undergone wine-whine merger (so the sequence /hw/ is not present except among those who have acquired this distinction as the result of speech training).[103] The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, based in London, still teaches these two sounds for international breadth as distinct phonemes. They are also distinct from one another in most of Scotland and Ireland, in the northeast of England, and in the southeastern United States.[103]
  • Unlike some other varieties of English language in England, there is no h-dropping in words like head or horse.[104] As shown in the spoken specimen below, in hurried phrases such as "as hard as he could" h-dropping commonly applies to the word he.
  • Unlike most Southern Hemisphere English accents, RP has not undergone the weak-vowel merger, meaning that pairs such as Lenin/Lennon are distinct.[105]
  • In traditional RP [?] is an allophone of /r/ (it is used intervocalically, after /?, ð/ and sometimes even after /b, ?/).[106][107]

Conservative RP

Conservative Received Pronunciation is a conservative standard of pronunciation of British English. Formerly the prestige model of pronunciation, it has declined in favour of other, less-conservative dialects, primarily Contemporary Received Pronunciation (Contemporary RP) also known as Modern RP. Conservative RP is the standard adhered to in the First and Second Editions of the Oxford English Dictionary, which, starting with the Third edition, has been modelled on Contemporary RP.[] Other terms for Conservative RP are Traditional RP and Upper RP (the latter in reference to the association of the standard to the upper class and aristocracy). Notable speakers of Conservative RP include Queen Elizabeth II and other older members of the Royal Family, Sir Winston Churchill and commentators of Pathé News and, prior to the 1960s, the BBC.

The phonological features of Conservative RP which are distinct from Contemporary RP, include:

Vowels and diphthongs

  • Happy tensing: this feature concerns the vowel at the end of words ending in ⟨y⟩, ⟨ie⟩, ⟨ee⟩, etc., which is normally transcribed with the symbol ⟨i⟩. In Conservative RP, this vowel can be assigned to the /?/ phoneme, whereas in Contemporary RP it can be assigned to the /i:/ phoneme, as it is more tense.[108]
  • The phonetic realization of the /e/ phoneme is more close than in Contemporary RP, in which it is more open . The more closed realization is also found in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.[108]
  • Similarly, the quality of the /æ/ phoneme is , akin to General American and General Australian. However, the majority of Contemporary RP speakers realize this vowel as fully open , as do speakers from Northern England and Scotland.[108]
  • The quality of the NURSE vowel /?:/ is realised as by some conservative speakers, and [?: ~ ?:] by others. In Contemporary RP, the realization is not heard.
  • Many terms have /?:/ in Conservative RP, yet /?/ in the speech of Contemporary RP speakers, including cross, often, cloth, salt, because, gone, etc. Similarly, the term mass (with reference to the Catholic ritual) may be pronounced as /m?:s/ by conservative speakers, with data also possessing this vowel, /'d?:t?/. For Contemporary RP speakers, the former tends to have the short /æ/ vowel, whereas the latter has a diphthong /e?/.[108]
  • In some cases, where Contemporary RP has the schwa /?/, Conservative RP preserves /?/, for instance, the final vowel in the following: devil, kindness, witness, private, toilet, fortunate.[108]
  • Contemporary RP speakers realize // as [] before the dark l ([?]), so that goal has a different vowel from goat. This allophone is not used by conservative speakers.[108]
  • Two diphthongs which exist in Conservative RP may not in Contemporary RP. The first has disappeared in the speech of all but the most conservative British speakers and some speakers of Southern American English, the hoarse-horse distinction. For speakers who differentiate, hoarse is realised as /hs/ and horse is /h?:s/. The vowel in words such as tour, moor, sure is // for all Conservative RP speakers, but has merged with /?:/ for many Contemporary speakers. Taking the two mergers into account, results in a number of three-way mergers, which were hitherto distinct, such as poor, paw and pore (/p/, /p?:/, /p/) all becoming /p?:/.
  • The // phoneme (as in fair, care, there) is realized as a true centring diphthong [] in the conservative variety, whereas speakers of Contemporary RP tend to realise it as a long monophthong .[108]
  • The /e?/ phoneme has a somewhat different starting point in the conservative variety, namely [e?]. For Contemporary speakers, this vowel tends to be realised as [].[108]


  • Unlike with vowels and diphthongs, consonantal phonemes have not undergone change, with one exception. For speakers of Conservative Received Pronunciation in the mid-19th century until the end of the 19th century, it was standard for the consonant combination ⟨wh⟩ to realised as /?/ (also transcribed /hw/), as can still be heard in the 21st century in the speech of many speakers in Ireland and Scotland and a large minority in the Southern United States. Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, the /?/ phoneme ceased to be a feature of Conservative RP, except by the most precise speakers who have learnt to differentiate, meaning it has ceased to be a native feature of English outside Ireland, Scotland and the Southern United States.

Spoken specimen

The Journal of the International Phonetic Association regularly publishes "Illustrations of the IPA" which present an outline of the phonetics of a particular language or accent. It is usual to base the description on a recording of the traditional story of the North Wind and the Sun. There is an IPA illustration of British English (Received Pronunciation).

The speaker (female) is described as having been born in 1953, and educated at Oxford University. To accompany the recording there are three transcriptions: orthographic, phonemic and allophonic.


ð? 'n?:? 'w?nd ?n ð? 's?n w? d?'spju:t 'w?t? w?z ð? 'str?, wen ? 'trævl ?ke?m l 'ræpt ?n ? 'w?:m 'klk. ðe? ?'?ri:d ð?t ð? 'w?n hu 'f?:st s?k'si:d?d ?n 'me?k ð? 'trævl? ?te?k h?z 'klk ?f d bi k?n?s?d?d 'str? ð?n ði '?ð?. 'ðen ð? ?n?:? w?nd 'bluz 'h?:d ?z i 'k?d, b?t ð? 'm?: hi 'blu: ð? ?m?: 'klsli d?d ð? 'trævl? 'fld h?z ?klk ?'ra?nd h?m, ænd ?t 'l?:st ð? 'n?:? w?nd e?v '?p ði ?'tempt. 'ðen ð? 's?n n a?t 'w?:mli, ænd ?'mi:di?tli ð? 'trævl? 't?k ?f ?z 'klk. n? ?s ð? 'n?:? 'w?n w?z ?'bla?d?d t? k?n'fes ð?t ð? 's?n w?z ð? 'strr? ?v ð? 'tu:.


ð? 'n?:? 'wnd ?n?n 's?n w? d?'spj?u?:t 'wt? w?z ð? 'st, wen ? 'tævl ?k?e?m l '?æpt? ?n ? 'w?:m 'klk?. ðe? ?'i:d? ð ð? 'w?n ?u 'f?:s s?k'si:d?d ?m'me?x ð? 'tævl? ?t?e?k?xs 'klk ?f bbi kn?s?d?d? 'st ðn?n?i '?ð?. 'ðen?n ?n?:? wnd 'bluz? 'h?:d? ?s i 'k?d, b?t? ð 'm?: hi 'blu?: ð? ?m? 'klsl?i dd ð 'tæv?l? 'fld? h?z? ?klk? ?'?a?nd h?m, ænd ?t 'l:st ð 'n?:? wnd e?v? '?p ði? ?'t?em?t. 'ðen?n 's?n n a?t 'w?:mli, ænd ?'mi:di?tl?i ð 'tævl? 'tk ?f ?z? 'klk?. n? ?s ð? 'n?:? 'wn w?z? ?'bla?d t kn'fes ð ð 's?n w?z?z 'st? ?v? ð 't?u?:.


The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger, when a traveller came along wrapped in a warm cloak. They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveller take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did the traveller fold his cloak around him, and at last the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shone out warmly, and immediately the traveller took off his cloak. And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.[109]

Notable speakers

The following people have been described as RP speakers:

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Jack Windsor Lewis (19 February 1972). "British non-dialectal accents". Retrieved 2011.
  2. ^ Pearsall (1999), p. xiv.
  3. ^ Jack Windsor Lewis (15 July 2008). "General British Pronunciation". - PhonetiBlog.
  4. ^ Wells (2008), p. xiv.
  5. ^ Trudgill, Peter (8 December 2000). "Sociolinguistics of Modern RP". University College London. Retrieved 2012.
  6. ^ Windsor Lewis, Jack. "A Notorious Estimate". JWL's Blogs. Retrieved 2017.
  7. ^ Upton, Clive (21 January 2019). "Chapter 14: British English". In Reed, Marnie; Levis, John (eds.). The Handbook of English Pronunciation. John Wiley & Son. p. 251. ISBN 978-1119055266.
  8. ^ Hudson (1981), p. 337.
  9. ^ Crystal, David (March 2007). "Language and Time". BBC voices. BBC. Retrieved 2011.
  10. ^ a b McArthur (2002), p. 43.
  11. ^ Fishman (1977), p. 319.
  12. ^ Jones (1926), p. ix.
  13. ^ DuPonceau (1818), p. 259.
  14. ^ Wyld (1927), p. 23.
  15. ^ Ellis (1869), p. 3.
  16. ^ "Regional Voices - Received Pronunciation". British Library.
  17. ^ Crystal (2003), pp. 54-55.
  18. ^ Crystal (2005), pp. 243-244.
  19. ^ Cruttenden (2008), pp. 77-80.
  20. ^ Jenkins (2000), pp. 13-16.
  21. ^ Wells (1982), p. 117.
  22. ^ Jones (2011), p. vi.
  23. ^ Ladefoged (2004).
  24. ^ Trudgill (1999).
  25. ^ Jack Windsor Lewis. "Review of the Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary 15th edition 1997". Retrieved 2011.
  26. ^ Jack Windsor Lewis. "Ovvissly not one of us - Review of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary". Retrieved 2011.
  27. ^ Jack Windsor Lewis. "Review of CPD in ELTJ". Retrieved 2011.
  28. ^ Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 3-4.
  29. ^ International Phonetic Association (1999), p. 4.
  30. ^ Laski, M., comp. (1974) Kipling's English History. London: BBC; pp. 7, 12 &c.
  31. ^ Schmitt (2007), p. 323.
  32. ^ Wells (1982).
  33. ^ exotic spices, John Wells's phonetic blog, 28 February 2013
  34. ^ Bernd Kortmann (2004). Handbook of Varieties of English: Phonology; Morphology, Syntax - edit edition. Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 217-230. ISBN 978-3110175325. Retrieved 2017.
  35. ^ British Library. "Sounds Familiar". Retrieved 2017.
  36. ^ "Case Studies - Received Pronunciation". British Library. 13 March 2007. Retrieved 2019. As well as being a living accent, RP is also a theoretical linguistic concept. It is the accent on which phonemic transcriptions in dictionaries are based, and it is widely used (in competition with General American) for teaching English as a foreign language.
  37. ^ Jones (1917).
  38. ^ Jones (2011).
  39. ^ Wells (2008).
  40. ^ Upton, Kretzschmar & Konopka (2001).
  41. ^ Windsor Lewis, J. (1972). A Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English. Oxford.
  42. ^ Jones (1917), p. viii.
  43. ^ Gladstone's speech was the subject of a book The Best English. A claim for the superiority of Received Standard English, together with notes on Mr. Gladstone's pronunciation, H.C. Kennedy, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1934.
  44. ^ Discussed in Mugglestone (2003, pp. 277-278).
  45. ^ Zoe Thornton, The Pickles Experiment - a Yorkshire man reading the news, Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society 2012, pp. 4-19.
  46. ^ "Scottish and Irish accents top list of favourites". The Independent. 13 May 2007.
  47. ^ McArthur (2002), p. 49.
  48. ^ Roach (2004), pp. 240-241.
  49. ^ a b c d e Roach (2004), p. 241.
  50. ^ a b c Roach (2004), p. 240.
  51. ^ a b Gimson (1970).
  52. ^ Lodge (2009), pp. 148-49.
  53. ^ Shockey (2003), pp. 43-44.
  54. ^ Roach (2009), p. 112.
  55. ^ Halle & Mohanan (1985), p. 65.
  56. ^ Jones (1967), p. 201.
  57. ^ Cruttenden (2008), p. 204.
  58. ^ Collins & Mees (2003:95, 101)
  59. ^ Collins & Mees (2003:92)
  60. ^ Gimson (2014), p. 118.
  61. ^ Roach (2009), p. 24.
  62. ^ Wiik (1965).
  63. ^ Cruttenden, Alan (2014). Gimson's Pronunciation of English (8th ed.). Routledge. p. 101. ISBN 9781444183092.
  64. ^ Cruttenden, Alan (2014). Gimson's Pronunciation of English (8th ed.). Routledge. p. 165. ISBN 9781444183092.
  65. ^ Roach (2004), pp. 241, 243.
  66. ^ a b c Wells (2008:XXV)
  67. ^ "A World of Englishes: Is /?/ "real"?". Retrieved 2016.
  68. ^ Roca & Johnson (1999), p. 200.
  69. ^ Wells, John. "Blog July 2006". Retrieved 2014.
  70. ^ Wells, John. "Blog July 2009". Retrieved 2014.
  71. ^ Wells, John. "Blog Nov 2009". Retrieved 2014.
  72. ^ Roach (2009), pp. 18-19.
  73. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 203 ff.
  74. ^ Jack Windsor Lewis (1990). "Review of Longman Pronunciation Dictionary". The Times.
  75. ^ Wells, John (16 March 2012). "English places". John Wells's phonetic blog.
  76. ^ Upton (2004), pp. 222-223.
  77. ^ a b Gupta (2005), p. 25.
  78. ^ Petyt (1985), pp. 166-167.
  79. ^ Point 18 in Jack Windsor Lewis. "The General Central Northern Non-Dialectal Pronunciation of England". Retrieved 2011.
  80. ^ Pointon, Graham (20 April 2010). "Olivia O'Leary". Linguism: Language in a word.
  81. ^ Petyt (1985), p. 286.
  82. ^ Newbrook (1999), p. 101.
  83. ^ a b Wells (2008), p. xxix.
  84. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Case Studies - Received Pronunciation Phonology - RP Vowel Sounds". British Library.
  85. ^ Schmitt (2007), pp. 322-323.
  86. ^ Lindsey, Geoff (8 March 2012). "The British English vowel system". speech talk.
  87. ^ Wells, John (12 March 2012). "the Lindsey system". John Wells's phonetic blog.
  88. ^ Language Log (5 December 2006). "Happy-tensing and coal in sex".
  89. ^ The Queen's speech to President Sarkozy, "often" pronounced at 4:44.
  90. ^ Wright (1905), p. 5, §12
  91. ^ Lindsey, Geoff (3 June 2012). "Funny old vowels". Retrieved 2016.
  92. ^ Trudgill (1999), p. 62.
  93. ^ Roca & Johnson (1999), pp. 135, 186.
  94. ^ Wells, John (27 January 1994). "Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation?". Retrieved 2011.
  95. ^ Wikström (2013), p. 45. "It seems to be the case that younger RP or near-RP speakers typically use a closer quality, possibly approaching Cardinal 6 considering that the quality appears to be roughly intermediate between that used by older speakers for the LOT vowel and that used for the THOUGHT vowel, while older speakers use a more open quality, between Cardinal Vowels 13 and 6."
  96. ^ Collins & Mees (2013), p. 207.
  97. ^ de Jong et al. (2007), pp. 1814-1815.
  98. ^ Roach (2011).
  99. ^ "Wells: Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation?". 1997. Retrieved 2015.
  100. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 196 ff.
  101. ^ Wells (1982), p. 76.
  102. ^ Wells (1982), p. 245.
  103. ^ a b Wells (1982), pp. 228 ff.
  104. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 253 ff.
  105. ^ Wells (1982), pp. 167 ff.
  106. ^ Wise (1957).
  107. ^ Cruttenden (2008), pp. 221.
  108. ^ a b c d e f g h "Received Pronunciation". 13 March 2007. Retrieved 2016.
  109. ^ Roach (2004).
  110. ^ Wells, John (8 November 2010). "David Attenborough". John Wells's phonetic blog.
  111. ^ a b c Wells, John (3 May 2011). "the evidence of the vows". John Wells's phonetic blog.
  112. ^ Wells, John (11 July 2007). "Any young U-RP speakers?".
  113. ^ Wells, John (8 April 2010). "EE, yet again". John Wells's phonetic blog.
  114. ^ a b c Woods, Vicki (5 August 2011). "When I didn't know owt about posh speak". The Daily Telegraph.
  115. ^ a b c Lawson, Lindsey (14 October 2013). "A popular British accent with very few native speakers". The Voice Cafe. Retrieved 2017.
  116. ^ a b Wells, John (12 June 2008). "RP back in fashion?".
  117. ^ "British Accents". 25 January 2011.
  118. ^ Klaus J. Kohler (2017) "Communicative Functions and Linguistic Forms in Speech Interaction", published by CUP (page 268)
  119. ^ Cooper, Glenda (4 October 2014). "A 'posh' RP voice can break down barriers". The Daily Telegraph.
  120. ^ "Has Beckham started talking posh?". BBC News.


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External links

Sources of regular comment on RP

Audio files

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Music Scenes