British and American pronunciation models 129
In traditional phonetic description, it has been usual to describe the characteristics of one particular type of speech. Where possible, analysts have looked for a ‘standard’ or ‘model’ accent. In Britain, a standard traditionally is known as Received Pronunciation (RP).
In the nineteenth century Received Pronunciation (RP) was a social marker, a prestige accent of an Englishman. “Received” was understood in the sense of “accepted in the best society”. The speech of aristocracy and the court phonetically was that of the London area. Then it lost its local characteristics and was finally fixed as a ruling-class accent, often referred to as “King’s English”. It was also the accent taught at public schools. With the spread of education cultured people not belonging to upper classes were eager to modify their accent in the direction of social standards.
An increasing number of writers now prefer to refer to the standard English pronunciation as a BBC accent. This model accent for British English is represented in the 15th (1997) and the 16th (2003) editions of EPD. This is the pronunciation of professional speakers employed by the BBC as newsreaders and announcers. Of course, one finds differences between such speakers – they have their own personal characteristics, and a growing number of broadcasters with Scottish, Welsh and Irish accents are employed. On this ground J.C. Wells (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 3rd edition – 2000) considers that the term BBC pronunciation has become less appropriate. The model of British English pronunciation recorded in LPD is a modernized version of RP. According to J.C. Wells, it is what was traditionally used by ВВС news readers. However, P. Roach writes, there is a useful degree of consistency in the broadcast speech of these speakers. Their speech does not carry for most people the connotations of high social class and privilege that PSP and RP have had in the past. An additional advantage is that it is easy to gain access to examples. That is why EPD prefers the term ВВС accent.
For American English, EPD also follows what is frequently heard from professional voices on national network news and information programmes. It is similar to what has been termed General American, which refers to a geographically (largely non-coastal) and socially based set of pronunciation features.