On this week’s blog we have seen three accents well known to any resident of London – Cockney, Estuary and RP. There is one notable absentee from this list – colloquially termed ‘posh’. Technically this accent is known as ‘Upper Received Pronunciation’ and is widely associated with the English aristocracy and educational institutions such as Eton and Oxford.
The accent was also widely heard on the BBC in the first half of the 20th century as Lord Reith, the then director general of the BBC, promoted the accent in order to achieve a standard and ‘proper’ accent among presenters – an attitude that is openly rejected nowadays at the BBC, where regional accents are in demand.
Features of Upper RP
If we compare ‘Upper RP’ to standard RP/GB English, we notice that there is perhaps a tendency to articulate consonants more fully, but the consonant system is not very different. The key differences are in the vowel system, where ‘Upper RP’ speakers use certain mouth positions more, as outlined below:
The /æ/ sound in MAN is made more close – towards the /e/ in MEN:
man hand cramp thanks angry | “Thank that mad man.”
The first sound of /əʊ/ as in GO is made nearer the front /e/ position:
post tone soap show so lonely | “Don’t go so slowly!”
The final, weak /i/ in REALLY is made more open, towards the /e/ position:
quickly partly barley picky | “I’m really very sorry.”
The first sound of /aʊ/ as in HOW is made near the back in the /ɑ/ position:
couch house allow now voucher | “How now brown mouse.”
The /ʌ/ sound in FUN is made further open and back, towards the /ɑ/ position:
bus duck none money rough | “Fun loving mums.”
The /ɜː/ sound in BIRD is made more open and back, towards /ɑː/ more like BARRED:
shirt bird turn curl word worse | “Firstly return the shirt, sir.”
The combinations /aɪə/ in WIRE and /aʊə/ in HOUR are realised as one long /ɑː/ sound:
wire tyre admire fire liar | flower tower power shower | “I admire the power shower.”
The /uː/ sound in YOU is made with the tongue further back:
new you boot soup glue | “Who knew you, Sue?”
Intonation & Voice
Upper RP has a distinctive, clear intonation with a noticeable tendency for high-falling patterns:
It is particularly common among younger speakers to use lengthened vowels and ‘creaky voice’ towards the end of a sentence or tone unit:
Who speaks ‘posh’?
It is not possible to attribute ‘posh’ to a particular region of England, but it is often indicative of a high social class or of particular educational institutions. It is also often reported in the media that people alter their accents to achieve higher social or employment status. Many people may associate the Queen’s accent with ‘posh’, but it is certainly an old-fashioned version. The current conservative government has several Upper RP speakers, most notably Jacob Rees-Mogg (who hails from Somerset):
This article uses English IPA symbols – learn each of them with pronunciation notes, diagrams and audio in Pronunciation Studio’s free Starter Pack.
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