The Queen’s English ain’t what it used to be

The Queen’s English ain’t as posh as it used to be. After studying 50 years’ worth of the Queen’s Christmas broadcast, researcher Jonathan Harrington noticed a downshift from the rarified “advanced received pronunciation” (ARP) or the infamous “cut glass accent” to the not-so-posh “standard received pronunciation” (BBC accent). What does this all mean? Professor Harrington, who is publishing ...

605773_queen_0_05.jpg
605773_queen_0_05.jpg

The Queen’s English ain’t as posh as it used to be. After studying 50 years' worth of the Queen's Christmas broadcast, researcher Jonathan Harrington noticed a downshift from the rarified "advanced received pronunciation" (ARP) or the infamous "cut glass accent" to the not-so-posh "standard received pronunciation" (BBC accent).

What does this all mean? Professor Harrington, who is publishing his findings in the Journal of Phonetics, explains:

In 1952 she would have been heard referring to 'thet men in the bleck het'. Now it would be 'that man in the black hat'. Similarly, she would have spoken of 'the citay' and 'dutay', rather than 'citee' and 'dutee', and 'hame' rather than home. In the 1950s she would have been 'lorst', but by the 1970s lost."

The Queen’s English ain’t as posh as it used to be. After studying 50 years’ worth of the Queen’s Christmas broadcast, researcher Jonathan Harrington noticed a downshift from the rarified “advanced received pronunciation” (ARP) or the infamous “cut glass accent” to the not-so-posh “standard received pronunciation” (BBC accent).

What does this all mean? Professor Harrington, who is publishing his findings in the Journal of Phonetics, explains:

In 1952 she would have been heard referring to ‘thet men in the bleck het’. Now it would be ‘that man in the black hat’. Similarly, she would have spoken of ‘the citay’ and ‘dutay’, rather than ‘citee’ and ‘dutee’, and ‘hame’ rather than home. In the 1950s she would have been ‘lorst’, but by the 1970s lost.”

To Americans, paying this kind of inordinate attention to the minutiae of Elizabeth’s elocution may seem picayune. Yet as fictional phonetics professor Henry Higgins put it in Pygmalion, “the moment an Englishman opens his mouth, another Englishman despises him,” an aphorism that remains valid today. In Higgins’ era, Englishmen were generally born into an accent. Acquiring a “plummy” one required many a repetition of phrases like “the rain in Spain falls only on the plain.”

Americans aren’t innocent to the class intonations of the ARP or its slummier cousin RP (the BBC accent). American historical dramas often employ a crusty English accent to convey the class or even non-English foreignness of various characters. Thus ancient Romans portrayed in Hollywood movies sound like graduates of Oxford or Cambridge, though they should be speaking in a proto-Italian lilt.

Harrington makes a similar link between accent and social status: he believes that the Queen’s accent underwent the greatest change in the 1960-70s, when Britain’s rigid class structure was finally being worn down. 

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