The orthoepic norm of a language is the standard pronunciation adopted by native speakers as the right and proper way of speaking. It comprises the variants of pronunciation of vocabulary units and prosodic patterns which reflect the main tendencies in pronunciation that exist in the language. It is used by the most educated part of the population. Though attempts are generally made to preserve the norm as it is, new pronunciations which are in common use gradually become 'acceptable' and are included into the norm. On the other hand, some of the pronun­ciations, which had been acceptable, fall out of use, are labelled as 'old-fashioned' and are, consequently, excluded from the norm.

It is generally considered that the orthoepic norm of British English is "Received Pronunciation" (RP). It was accepted as the phonetic norm of English about a century ago. It is mainly based on the Southern Eng­lish regional type of pronunciation, but it has developed its own features which have given it a non-regional character, i.e. there is no region in Britain to which it is native. RP is spoken all over Britain by a compara­tively small number of English people (from 3 to 5 per cent) who have the most privileged education in the country - public school education, public schools being the best and most expensive fee-paying schools in the country. RP is not taught at these schools, "it is absorbed automati­cally by the pupils", as D. Jones, the author of Everyman's English Pro­nouncing Dictionary, puts it. As almost all the leading positions in the Cabinet, the armed forces, the judiciary are occupied by those who have had public school education, RP is actually a social standard pronuncia­tion of English. It is often referred to as the 'prestige accent'.

Though RP is carefully preserved by the public schools and the privileged class in England, the RP of today differs in some respects from the former refined RP used half a century ago. A. Gimson claims that the exclusive purity of the classic RP has been diluted, as some features of regional types of speech are "received" now, though some 50 years ago those features were considered to be regional, non-RP.

The main changes in Received Pronunciation.

The main changes that have recently taken place in RP are as fol­lows:

1. The diphthongization of the RP [i:] and fu:] which in final posi­tion are often pronounced with a glide (e.g. see [sij], who [huu]).

2. Monophthongization of [ai] and [аи] when followed by [a] (e.g.
tower [Чаиэ] > [Чаа], fire ffaia] > ffaa]; now usually tran­
scribed as f fa(i)e]).

3. The centering of former [ou] to [аи]. As A. Gimson writes, "it is
perhaps the most striking of the changes which have affected
the pronunciation of British English in recent times".

4. A greater weakening of vowels in weakly stressed syllables,
which results in the use of the neutral [э] where the more con­
servative form had and has the stronger [i], e.g. believe
[ba'lkv] along with [bfli:v], interesting fmtrastirj] along with
f intnstirj].

But RP does not accept a loss of the [a] - [i] distinction in final open syllables (e.g. between better ["beta] and Betty f beti], dollar f d^la] and dolly f d^li]). RP retains [l] in such mor­pheme endings as ~ed, -es, e.g. matted fmsetid], teaches fti:t f iz](as opposed to mattered fmsetad], teachers [ ti:tfaz]).

5. The assimilation of the following sounds: [sj] > [ [] , [zj] > [3],

[tj] > [t []» [dj] > [d-5] ' (e.g. issue, crozier, situation, education). Such assimilation can occur even on the borderline of two

words, e.g. makes you fmeik fju:], as you [ae> ju:], what you [^wDt fju:], did you [4did3u:].

5. The final [b], [d], [g] are now partly devoiced. But the distinc­
tions between [b] - [p], [d] - [t], [g] - [k] are just as clearly
marked, because [p], [t], [k] are fortis, while [b], [d], [g] are
lenis (cf. cab - cap, had - hat, bag - back).

6. The use of the intrusive [r], which some 20-30 years was care­
fully avoided by RP speakers.

Nowadays RP tolerates the intrusive [r] in such phrases as the idea [r] of it, Asia [r] and Africa, drama [r] and music.

The rhythmic tendency.

The rhythmic tendency, which causes the secondary stress(es) to appear in polysyllabic words, remains a strong one and affects the stress patterns of a large number of words in modern English. Thus, in some polysyllabic words there is a tendency nowadays to avoid a succession of weak syllables, especially if these have [a] or [l]. As a result, there ap-

1 In early New English (16th - 17th centuries) there was the same tendency for assimilation which took place in such words as pressure, pleasure, nature, procedure and contributed to their modern pronunciation.


pears a stress shift with a rhythmic alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables. This tendency is clearly evident in the new pronunciation of the following words:

' exquisite  ^                  ov ex 'quisite  —'—

'precedence                      or pre 'cedence

sonorous                         or so norous

'capitalist -I-                ov capitalist —'--------

controversy                      or con' troversy

'hospitable                       or ho 'spitable

, articu 'latory -\- '------------------ or яг, ticu 'latory —|--- '------

This contradicts another tendency in English known as the reces­sive tendency, according to which the stress tends to fall on the first syl­lable with the exception of words with prefixes of no special meaning (e.g. he'come, in'deed, for'give, be'hind). Nevertheless, the new variants of pronunciation of these words and many more English words have been accepted and included in Everyman's English Pronouncing Dictionary by D. Jones as either second or even first variants of pronunciation. Some of these variants have gained widespread acceptance and are now recog­nized by most dictionaries (e.g. ex'quisite, controversy, ho'spitable), others are still on the periphery of RP (e.g. pre'cedence, capitalist).

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