Upper Received Pronunciation | How to Speak Posh

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Upper RP is a British English accent that is now only really spoken by ageing aristocrats. These days it sounds like something from a different era, and can sound a tad absurd in everyday situations.

Queen Elizabeth II spoke Upper RP in her own inimitable way, and King Charles III’s speech has many aspects of it, but you are unlikely to hear it in your local pub. It’s difficult to find an example of anybody in public life outside royalty who has this accent now.

So what are the features of Upper RP? As we’ll see, it’s mainly the vowel sounds that differ from modern standard British English accents which are commonly labelled Modern RP, General British (GB) or Standard Southern British (SSB).

Front Vowel Sounds

In Upper RP the front vowel sounds are made with the jaw more close than in GB:


/a/

Upper RP is closer [ɛ]

“HAND ME THAT BAG, HARRY”


/ɛ/

Upper RP is closer [e]

“GET ME A RED PEN”



Central Vowel Sounds

Central vowels tend to be pronounced with a more open jaw and back tongue than those in GB:


/əː/

Upper RP is further open and back [ʌː]

“CERTAINLY, BURN THE SHIRT.”


/ʌ/

Upper RP is more open and back [ɑ].

“LOVELY HONEY, MUM!”



Back Vowel Sounds

The back monophthong sounds also tend to be more open than in modern GB.


/ɒ/

Upper RP is more open and can be less rounded:

“WHAT DO YOU WANT, JOHN?”


/uː/

This sound is now very central in GB except before [ɫ], but it remains a back vowel in all places in Upper RP:

“CHOOSE: SHOES OR BOOTS?”



Diphthong Vowel Sounds

The starting position for many of the diphthongs is significantly different in UPPER RP:


/əʊ/

Upper RP starts to the front [ɛʊ]

“NO, DON’T GO.”


/aʊ/

GB starts to the front whereas Upper RP starts at the back [ɑʊ]

“LOUD SOUNDS ABOUND.”


/ʌɪ/

In Upper RP this starts at the front [aɪ] (like King Charles) or at the back [ɑɪ] whereas GB is more central:

I QUITE LIKE IT”


/ɔɪ/

This diphthong starts in a more open, even unrounded place in Upper RP

“IT’S THE BOY‘S PLOY, JOY.”


/ɪə,eə,ʊə/

Diphthongs ending /ə/ tend to have open endings in Upper RP. In GB these are tending to turn into monophthong sounds [ɪː,ɛː,ɔː]:

“WHERE? HERE? ARE YOU SURE?”



Weak Vowel Sounds

-y endings

In GB these -y endings are a close /i/ sound whereas in Upper RP it’s more open up to /e/:

“REALLY VERY LOVELY


/ə/

/ə/ is pronounced more open at the end of words in Upper RP

“IT’S SHARPER, FASTER and HEAVIER



Consonant Sounds

There is not a great deal of difference in the way consonant sounds are pronounced in Upper RP, though a few sounds stand out:

/j/

Consonant + /j/ is pronounced instead of one of /tʃ,dʒ,ʃ,s,z/

“THE DUKE’S SUIT WAS ISSUED ON A TUESDAY”


/hw/

Words starting WH are pronounced with /h/ at the beginning in Upper RP:

WHY, WHAT, WHERE and WHEN?”


/r/

Before an unstressed vowel, Upper RP speakers tend to tap /ɾ/

“MARRY ME IN PARIS, MARY.”


Aside from these differences, Upper RP speakers tend to articulate their consonants clearly and never use glottal stops instead of /t/ before vowel sounds.

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