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The BBC's Julian Siddle
"The Queen's vowel sounds had become more similar to those of the female BBC presenters"
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Examples of the queen's speech
throughout the years
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Wednesday, 20 December, 2000, 19:06 GMT
Queen's speech 'less posh'
House BBC
The Queen's English is drifting down the social hierarchy, scientists in Australia say.

After trawling through archives of Her Majesty's annual Christmas messages since 1952, they conclude that the royal accent is becoming less "posh".

The Queen is not likely to start dropping her aitches

Paul Foulkes, York University
The experts, based at Sydney's Macquarie University, believe the vowel sounds of Queen Elizabeth II have been influenced by subjects who are younger or of lower social standing.

As a result, they say, the Queen's accent is moving towards the standard accent of southern England, away from the cut-glass "upper-crust" accent of the 1950s.

Lead researcher Jonathan Harrington told BBC News Online: "In the last 40 or so years, there have been dramatic changes to the social class structure in Britain and to a certain extent this is reflected in pronunciation.

"It demonstrates that the monarchy, at least as far as the spoken accent is concerned, isn't isolated from the rest of the community."

"Hed" to "Had"

The researchers base their conclusions on an acoustic analysis of vowel sounds from archive recordings of the Queen's annual Christmas message.

They compared recordings from the 1950s and the 1980s with the standard accent of southern Britain, as spoken by female BBC broadcasters.

Writing in the scientific journal Nature, the team say the Queen's pronunciation of vowel sounds has slowly shifted over the years "towards one that is characteristic of speakers who are younger and/or lower in the social hierarchy".

In the Queen's Christmas broadcasts of the 1950s, for example, the word "had" almost rhymed with "bed". But 30 years later "had" migrated halfway to the standard southern English pronunciation, which rhymes with "bad".

Blurring of accents

The researchers say the Queen's English is part of a nationwide trend towards a blurring of accents that once distinguished different social classes.

The standard accent of England - modern, received pronunciation - has been subtly influenced by the Cockney accent, for example, leading to some people dropping the "l" from milk.

And Estuary English has a glottal stop, dropping the "t", as in "a li'le bi' of breab wiv a bi' of bu'er on i'".

Jonathan Harrington is quick to point out that although the Queen no longer speaks the Queen's English of the 1950s, researchers have found no trace of Cockney influences over the years.

Royal stereotypes

And Paul Foulkes, a linguistics expert at York University, UK, says that although younger members of the Royal Family, such as Prince William, have been heard to use glottal stops, this does not extend to the Queen.

He told BBC News Online: "If you look at the way Spitting Image and other professional mimics might stereotype the Queen's speech with words like House pronounced as 'Hice', that is something she would be likely to change to reduce the distance between herself and other people.

"But she is not likely to start dropping her aitches or using glottal stops."

So for the time being at least, the House of Windsor is unlikely to become the 'Ouse of Windsor'.

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