How to Speak the RP English Accent

Generally, there is no single "British accent" as there are a variety of accents in the entire United Kingdom, all of which may be referred to as British accents. The most popular, however, is the Received Pronunciation which is the accent of Standard English in England. Although there is nothing special about it, it is usually considered to be the accent of elite society. Which is a popular misconception. As RP is split between two different periods, one being of a historical difference where the upper class did have more pronounced speech than that of the lower classes due to their education system. Whilst today the RP accent has been adapted to fit more intricately to standard English as many students have obtained accents that do not connote a region that they are from, this can be asserted as RP.

Steps

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    Familiarize yourself with IPA. In learning how to speak the RP accent, most of the time you will encounter the International Phonetic Alphabet so you must learn how to pronounce words using the IPA.
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    Remember that RP English has the following characteristics:
    • RP English has undergone the fruit-strut split. If cut and put rhyme for you, you must learn to pronounce differently fruit and strut. Fruit is pronounced as /fru:t/ while strut is pronounced as /strʌt/ with /ʌ/ being an unstressed a sound, like the u in mud. American English has undergone the same split.
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    • RP English is a broad A accent which means the a sound in bath and chance is like the a in father or palm and not pronounced like trap (with a slight touch of the sound of e or /æ/). In other words, you pronounce the a sound by moving your jaw downwards instead of widening your mouth as with the case with /æ/.
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    • RP English is a non-rhotic accent which means the r sound is not pronounced unless it is followed by a vowel or if it is at the very beginning of the word. For example, the word father and farther will sound alike because the r sound in farther is dropped.
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    • RP English does not have h-dropping so the h sound in head and horse are pronounced.
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    • RP English has not undergone the weak vowel merger so the words Lenin and Lennon are pronounced differently.
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    • In RP English, Mary and marry are pronounced differently. The a sound in Mary is pronounced as eh while the a in marry is spoken with a deep stress on a or with a broad A. In other words, Mary is pronounced as /meri/ while marry is pronounced as /mæri/.
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    • In RP English, cot and caught are pronounced differently. Cot is pronounced as /kɒt/ while caught is pronounced as /kɔ:t/. The vowel in caught is longer and you need to pucker your lips a little to pronounce it.
    • RP English does not have yod dropping so the u sound in words such as tune /tju:n/, new /nju:/ and enthusiasm /ɪnˈθjuːziæzəm/ are pronounced with an extra y sound (IPA /j/) unlike standard American accents, which drop it: /tuːn, nuː, ɪnˈθuːziæzəm/. To a Received Pronunciation ear, Americans pronounce "noo" instead of "new".
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    Focus on your lips. In speaking RP English, put focus on the front of your mouth, particularly on the lips, when pronouncing the words. This is where the focus of the pronouncing the RP English is. When you try to imitate accurately someone who speaks the RP accent, you'll notice that you're placing stress on your lips when speaking.

Tips

  • RP is not called Queen's English for nothing, hear for yourself how HM Queen Elizabeth II speaks. A good thing would be to hear her at the State Opening of Parliament where she always delivers a very long speech, the perfect time to observe the way she speaks. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMHseSSRxgQ
  • Try to watch BBC news and see how the reporters speak the accent. RP English is also called BBC English as the standard accent of reporters at BBC is RP.
  • Beware of old BBC recordings - they're the way to learn a really archaic pronunciation. For a newer perspective, view The King's Speech; especially the part in which Adrian Scarborough reads an announcement over the radio.

Warnings

  • Don't exaggerate the accent or you'll look stupid. Just speak it as naturally as you can.

Article Info

Categories: Speech Styles