Received Pronunciation and the Accent of the Royal Baby
People around the world are celebrating the arrival of Prince William and the Duchess of Cornwall’s son, a shiny new royal baby for the press to pester. Most people are excited to see what the baby will look like (gorgeous no doubt), but others are wondering how the baby will eventually sound. Will he speak ‘The Queen’s English’?
The Accent of the Elite
The British royal family, has traditionally spoken using what is thought to be the standard English accent in England, RP – received pronunciation aka Oxford English, or BBC English. It is still regarded as ‘typically British’, but don’t let dictionaries and text books fool you, in no way is traditional RP the most common accent you will hear in the UK. It is still considered to be the accent of the upper end of the social scale, and for that reason it is not what you’ll hear as you walk along most streets in Britain. According to the British Library, recent estimates suggest that only 2% of the UK population actually speak it.
Even the term Received Pronunciation is relatively modern. It was first mentioned in 1869 by the linguist, A J Ellis, but it only became a widely used term used to describe a posh British accent after the phonetician, Daniel Jones, adopted it for the second edition of the English Pronouncing Dictionary (1924). The origins of RP is in the public schools and universities of nineteenth-century Britain, and it was promulgated by its adoption by BBC commentators.
And even RP has changed since then. Nowadays there are three kinds of RP:-
- Conservative / Traditional RP, which refers to the very traditional variety associated with older speakers and the aristocracy
- Mainstream RP, which describes an accent considered neutral in terms of age, occupation or lifestyle of the speaker
- Contemporary RP, which refers normally to younger RP speakers
The more modern variation of RP goes something like this:
Poo-er – Traditional RP
Paw – Modern RP
Matchewer – Traditional RP
Matchoor – Modern RP
The Queen of England is still known for having a cut glass accent, with its characteristic elongated vowel sounds, and for the most part she still uses this posh traditional RP accent, but specialists have analyzed voice recordings she has made over the last fifty years and concluded that her accent has changed slightly, it has softened to resemble that of the younger royal generation, and it is more “listenable”.
With the accents of the British royal family evolving and becoming more modern, will the young prince grow up hearing the traditional ‘Received Pronunciation’ accent or will he be exposed to the more relaxed modern RP. Or maybe a bit of Cockney? After all he was born in London.
It is certainly true that the royal accent has evolved further with the younger generation, Prince William and Harry, they have made it less refined so it sounds more casual, but not all of the younger generation speak modern RP. Whilst Prince William speaks with a more modern form of RP his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, uses the more traditional, cut glass version. Some people who study such things say Kate Middleton actually has a posher accent than her royal husband, William.
Jonnie Robinson, a curator and linguist at the British library says, “Kate has focused on her voice”. “She always strikes me as more careful. They are both clearly RP but given that he is a royal and she isn’t, you would expect him to be posher, but I’m not sure he is.”
So what accent will the Royal baby have?
Because Kate has her cut glass traditional English accent, we can assume that the royal baby will grow up learning this traditional English pronunciation, without any modern variation. His dad may speak more casually, but if Kate uses her traditional accent around the baby at all times it will most likely be the accent he will hear whilst growing up, and the most common pronunciation you are exposed to when you are young, is the one you will most likely pick up. In this child’s infancy, he’s doomed, surrounded by the royal family, the sound of traditional Received Pronunciation is more than likely what he’ll hear, along with yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir, and he will probably perfect his posh accent on the playing fields of Eton.
However, as he grows up his accent could change as he is introduced to new influences; friends, university, and who knows, maybe even work, away from the royal family. Perhaps he will develop a different version of RP, or maybe start speaking with a London accent, or estuary English. I guess we will have to wait and see.