What are the key differences between RP & Estuary?
One topic that frequently arises when teaching pronunciation & accent, is which accent to model in class. Most students aim for a neutral accent model – referred to as RP (Received Pronunciation) or BBC English, but the reality is that a lot of native speakers in the South of England (including most of our teachers) tend to switch constantly between RP and an accent closer to ‘estuary’. The issue is certainly a talking point; there have been plenty of column inches on Prince William and Kate Middleton’s varying levels of ‘RP’ recently, with some bloggers claiming William has ‘quite a bit of Estuary’ in his speech.
So what are the features of Estuary and how can you spot Estuary and RP? Here are some key differences:
1. Glottal Stop /ʔ/ & /t/:
RP An RP accent is very clear about when a speaker can produce a glottal stop – it can replace a ‘t’ only before another consonant sound for example in ‘football’ and when produced is accompanied by an alveolar stop (the tongue touches the alveolar ridge as if it were making a /t/.
Estuary In Estuary English a glottal stop is not accompanied by an alveolar stop, and will appear at the end of syllables: (foot, what) as well as before consonants (football). It may also appear before weak vowels (water), but this is more typical of cockney.
foot, what, football, water
2. Dark /l/
RP In RP, an /l/ appearing at the end of a syllable will produce a dark /l/ sound /l̴/, which means that the tongue is raised at the back of the mouth towards the velum as well as touching the alveolar ridge. It gives a soft, almost muffled sound – eg ‘ball‘ /bɔ:l̴/ and ‘feel‘ /fi:l̴/.
ball /bɔ:l̴/, feel /fi:l̴/
Estuary Dark /l/ does not appear in Estuary, instead it is replaced by a syllable final /w/ sound. So ‘ball’ sounds like /bɔ:w/ and feel would be /fi:w/.
ball /bɔ:w/, feel /fi:w/
3. Intrusive /r/
Intrusive /r/ is a joining /r/ sound between one word ending in /ə/ or /ɔ:/ and another word beginning with a vowel. (EG ‘China_and India’ or ‘law_and order’).
RP An RP speaker would not add an /r/ sound in order to join two words, instead placing a pause.
China_and India, law_and order
Estuary An Estuary speaker would use intrusive /r/ making all words and sounds join together.
China/r/and India, law/r/and order
4. /h/ dropping
RP An RP speaker may never drop an /h/ sound, even in function words such as ‘he’, ‘her’, ‘have’ etc.
he, her, have
Estuary Estuary speakers would certainly drop the /h/ in function words, particularly where they appear in the middle of sentences such as ‘Where’s he gone?’ and ‘It’s in her handbag’.
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