RP or not RP - that is the question!

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

When we talk about language attitudes in sociolinguistics, we’re looking at how people associate different accents with positive and negative traits.

For people who speak using a standard variety, they might find that they come across to others positively - for example, as being well-educated👩🏼‍🎓🧑🏾‍🎓.

For instance, it might be advantageous for a candidate in a job interview to speak using a standard variety, rather than with a more regional or foreign accent. While a job advertisement might not directly ask for a candidate with a particular accent, this might be something which employers judge when selecting a suitable candidate from a group of possible employees.

A good example of an accent variety with overt prestige is ‘received pronunciation’ 🇬🇧 (RP English, or RP). RP English is known as ‘BBC English’, due to its association with speech used in early radio and television broadcasting. In truth, RP English is quite varied in terms of word pronunciation. This variation is due to several factors, including the social class or age of the speaker, and the age the speaker acquired their RP accent.

Nevertheless, people often think of RP English as a single accent, spoken by people with a privileged upbringing. Back in the early days of news broadcasting, this accent was promoted, and presented above all others as the ‘correct’ and ‘more suitable’ variety of English. This tendency to feature - in (what would be at the time) new technologies - speech that only represents a small (but privileged) section of society is an example of overt prestige.

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