Received Pronunciation vs General British


An English teacher recently wrote to us probing on why we are using the term ‘GB English’ (GB) instead of ‘Received Pronunciation’ (RP), commenting that if the set of sounds we are using is the same as RP, it should keep the name.

So what is the difference?

It’s really quite simple – RP can have no hint of any regional accent for it to be considered RP. Some changes have crept in over the last couple of decades (listed below in modern features of RP), but they are minor and slow, mainly limited to slight changes in vowel positioning.

The key difference is that GB can incorporate regional elements. These could be very noticeable vowel or consonant substitutions (as listed below in possible features of GB), but the term allows for a much broader inclusion of speakers who have mainly standard accents. In other words, RP is GB, but GB isn’t necessarily RP.

6 modern features of RP:

Features that are now accepted as RP (the audio is firstly the modern way, then the old-fashioned way):

1. /əʊ/ to [ɒʊ] before dark /l/

old cold role soul

2. /uː/ and /ʊ/ are more central

boot shoe foot push

3. /ʊə/ to /ɔː/

poor sure tour cure

4. glottal stop [ʔ] before consonants (except /l/)

batman “that car”

5. /ɪə/ and /eə/ become monophthong vowels [ɪː] and [ɛː].

fear adhere wear mayor

6. /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ for /tj/ and /dj/

tune intuition duke educate

6 possible features of GB.

A GB speaker may produce some or all of these regional variations. This list is not exhaustive, the audio is firstly in GB, then RP:

1. dark /l/ to /w/

fall little minimal call

2. /r/ to [ʋ] – no tongue movement.

right arrow Rome rocket

3. /æ/ vs /ɑː/

glass fast path past

4. /ŋ/ to /n/

fishing learning watching hanging

5. glottal stops

– after a nasal at the end:

didn’t couldn’t weren’t

– before /l/

little bottle

Not before a vowel, although in fast connected speech this could go unnoticed:

I’ve got a few things to say.

6. Upspeak

A rising tone on statements is probably frowned upon in RP, but is so widely used in Britain now by speakers of different ages, regions and class backgrounds, that it would certainly be an acceptable feature of GB.

I would need a /season ticket.

A perfect example of the modern distinction between RP and GB is found in London’s previous and current mayors’ accents. Boris Johnson speaks a crystal clear RP, exuding his Eton and Oxford education. New mayor Sadiq Khan speaks GB – there’s a strong hint of London in there, but the accent is mainly standard.