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Received wisdom

Posted by TheFallen on September 22, 2004

In Reply to: Received wisdom posted by Henry on September 22, 2004

: : : : : The accent of one who has been through the elite school system in the UK is distinctive. The question is -- how can this accent replace the original accent of boys from all over the country who presumably have developed their speech patterns when they get to school?

: : : : This accent is fairly rapidly disappearing from British, especially English, society. You only have to hear either Princes Harry or William to hear how current Public School characters speak - very much like lots of other people with what has come to be called 'BBC English'. However, this is changing too, with many regional accents to be heard.
: : : : Presumably the children do inherit their speeech patterns from their childhoods, but many are influenced by radio and TV programmes - see above.

: : : Funnily enough, I've heard quite a few people with public school accents adjusting theirs to sound more common. Accents are more fluid than GB Shaw would have had us believe.

: : "In England, one accent has traditionally stood out above all others in its ability to convey associations of repectable social standing and a good education. This "prestige" accent is known as RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION, or RP. ....Accents usually tell us where a person is from; RP tells us only about a person's social or educational background." From the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language -- 1995. See web page at for a fascinating discussion of this accent.
: : Perhaps 'received' in this phrase refers to the acquisition of the accent at school rather than in the formative years in whatever region one was born.

: "The accent of one who has been through the elite school system in the UK is distinctive."
: I'd need much more evidence before I could accept this statement as true! It makes rather a lot of assumptions. Is there really a uniform accent that is attributable to education in the elite school system in the UK, rather than the society that the pupils come from? What diverse accents does the author think that the pupils had before they entered the school system? In what way does the author think that the accents change?
: Which particular schools does the author have in mind? Would a child from a priveleged home who went to an elite school have an accent different from a sibling who didn't? Does the Queen share this distinctive accent? If so, how did she acquire it? If not, how does it differ?
: Does the author think that it applies to schools today or a generation ago?
: Received means "accepted as true or worthy", as in received wisdom.

A public school accent is no longer to my knowledge taught in any way - the days where a dropped "h" or an unpronounced final "t" would be pounced upon by a belligerent English teacher have long gone.

I think that it's aspirational and implicit peer group pressure that causes certain schoolchildren and indeed students to change their accents quite deliberately. To back up this assertion, I'lll quote the example of a current English male movie star with whom I was at University. When he first arrived, he had a slight but noticeable estuary English mode of speech and pronunciation - but such was his desire to mix with the bright young things (and a sadder, more effete bunch of individuals you'd be hard pushed to meet), that within a term he too had assumed the languid diction of the Old Etonians, and sounded like he had stepped straight from the pages of "Brideshead Revisited".

Mind you, this has served him in good stead, since he's forever being cast as the stereotypical genial uppercrust English romantic lead (a fact fraught in an even greater irony, but that's another story and one I'm not prepared to risk a libel case over).