Variations in English Pronunciation

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1 Variation in English

English like any other language, like every language, is subject to variation. This variation can be complex and at times subtle. This text provides us with information about the principal ways in which British and Irish English speech varies and, just as importantly, the non-linguistic (social, geographical) factors which condition variation.

Variation in pronunciation RP

Dialect: refers to the varieties distinguished from each other by differences of grammar and vocabulary. Accent: on the other hand, refers to variations in pronunciation.

RP stands for “received pronunciation”. Received here is understood in its nineteeth-century sense of accepted in the most polite circles of society. RP remained the accent of those in the upper reaches of the social scale, as measured by education, income and profession, or title. It has traditionally been the accent of those educated at public schools. It is not the accent of any particular region. It enjoys the highest prestige in England.

It is estimated that only about 3 to 5 percent of the population of England speak RP. Since it is clearly a minority accent, why then, is it the only British accent taught to foreign learners? Social prestige; RP is often associated with high social status, wealth and power of its speakers. It is often considered the best, the clearest, and even the most beautiful accent. Because of its use on radio and television within Britain RP has become probably the most widely understood of all accents. Moreover, it is by far the most thoroughly described of British accents.

Language change
Accents change with time. In RP, for example, there has for some considerable time been a tendency, through a process known by linguists as smoothing, for certain triphthongs and diphthongs to become monophthongs. There is not a perfect correlation between age and pronunciation. Some RP speakers will regard the distinguishing features of the advanced variety of the...
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