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Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 17:02 GMT
RIP RP
queen
A more informal monarch?
The fuss over the Queen's slow departure from "RP" - received pronunciation - is more to do with informality than accent.

Received pronunciation is all about jaw muscle power and tongue control. The speaker must contort his or, in the Queen's case, her mouth into un-natural positions so that the required vowels sounds can be produced.

The wrong "try-zers"

Prolonged speech using received pronunciation can amount to a lengthy and potentially painful gym work-out for the tongue.

Goodbye RP

As the Queen has loosened her tongue her use of the jaw-busting "eyi" vowel sound has diminished

"Rain" and not "Raeiyn" now falls upon the "Plaeiyn

Princess "Aeyin" is now simply Princess Anne

Most people can easily produce the vowels needed to turn the perfectly ordinary words such as "trousers" or "pound" into their RP equivalents ("try-zers" and "pined").

But to do so requires the speaker to choose the words they are about to use with care, think about what they mean and then put some effort into the act of speaking them.

But as the Royle - as opposed to the Royal - family might say:

Few people can be "a***ed" to do this.

And why should anybody run the risk of ending up with a face full of muscles, so long as they can be understood?

coronation picture
1953: Coronation year and not a schwa in sight.
Most people in the UK speak English - albeit, increasingly, a hybrid of American and Austrialian dialects - with what language experts call a schwa.

This means that the tongue is allowed to loll in the middle of the mouth all the time, doing the minimum amount of work, while the jaw remains slack.

Essentially the schwa-afflicted person has embraced the modern ethos of lounging about and avoiding effort of any sort unless it is strictly essential. In many cases their entire speaking apparatus has gone floppy.

None of this has much to do with accent - still less social class. It is more to do with lack of rigour and laid-back "do easy" approach to life.

Defined vowels

John Flood, Academic Principal at Churchill House School of English in Bournemouth, specialises in teaching standard English to foreigners.

He says foreigners like the crisp vowel sounds of the Edinburgh Scottish accent. They have no idea that it sounds "posh" to many in the UK, and care even less.

But English spoken in this way requires a lot of mouth movement - and thus a lot of clearly defined vowels - which makes it easier to understand.

"I have never met an English teacher with a cut-glass '50s accent. I doubt if anyone from abroad trying to learn the language would be able to understand much of what their teachers are saying," says Mr Flood.

Received pronunciation as far as much of the rest of the world is concerned, would sound much more like Miss Jean Brodie, than the young Queen Elizabeth.

Lazy

Mr Flood says pronunciation comes second place to simply being understood.

"People talk a lot of rubbish about language," he says. "It is one of those subjects like football where everyone thinks they know everything about it when they don't."

The Queen is not getting less posh. Still less is she trying to ape the style and manners of the lower social classes.

She is merely in tune with the times, becoming more informal or, to put another way, she's getting lazy.

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See also:

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