Would you like to learn how to speak like a British Prime Minister? Would you like to know what the Oxford RP accent is? Then stay right here. I’ll answer these questions and I’ll show you 5 features of this accent, plus who speaks it. Now, I have a quiz question for you very shortly.
Hello it’s Jon, your pronunciation and accents coach and right here you can get a better British accent. Now, onto that quiz question.
How many British prime ministers throughout history have studied at the University of Oxford. Is it? a.11 b.28 or c.46.
No cheating now and I’ll tell you the answer at the end of the video so keep watching!
Alright, firstly, some background to this accent.
What is the Oxford English RP accent?
So, Oxford is both a town and university right? However, the Oxford accent of the people of Oxford is not the same as the Oxford RP accent spoken at the university on campus. Especially in the early to mid 20th century, the accent spoken at the university was clearly an accent which showed the world you had the best education and you have the accent to prove it. As it was the accent spoken by the middle and upper classes anyway, it seemed fitting to have its own variation of RP called the Oxford RP accent. You could also say that it is ‘affected’ which as the Oxford Dictionary put it is ‘designed to impress’. So, it is rather a label than a distinct accent in itself, as it still comes under the broader term of RP.
However, there is a complete set of jargon that the students and staff use at the university of Oxford and I’ll give you an example. If you would like to become Head of the River and compete in a rowing race. You can compete in the ‘eights’ or ‘summer eights’.
I’ve put a link to the full glossary of terms used at the Oxford archives for you to browse through as it is quite extensive.
So who speaks with the accent? Well, Boris Johnson the Prime Minister and David Cameron, the former PM, are good examples. They both speak with an RP accent and they are both former students of Oxford University. I have links to videos featuring both of them to show you.
In a minute we’ll look at some of the characteristics of the accent, but first let’s see where the starting position for RP is.
Feature 1 - Oral Posture
So every accent has a starting position of where the parts of the mouth should be. This is the oral posture of RP. Let’s start with the jaw. The jaw is moved up and slightly forward and tongue is raised up. However, some sounds will be produced from the back and some from the front.
There should be about a 1cm gap in your mouth.
Now, let’s look at how to pronounce some vowel sounds which are characteristic of this kind of accent.
Feature 2 - Key Vowel Sound 1 - the up vowel
For this sound you have to find it at the back of the mouth, as if you are going into song. Uhhhhh! Check out how I say undergraduate, Uxbridge and London in this sentence:
“I was an undergraduate at Brunel University in Uxbridge, London, before I went to Oxford.”
It’s not true by the way!
Feature 3 Key Diphthong sound 1 - the oh sound
The first diphthong is created at the front of the mouth and you will just see the lips closing to form a rounded shape.
I’ll give you an example. I’ve put an interview with David Cameron in the description below and at 20 seconds, you’ll hear him say:
“All that has followed”
Feature 4 SSSSS not SHHHHH
Let’s look at the word negotiation. The more modern way of saying it is negotiation with a sh sound at the first ti. The more classic RP way is to say negotiation. It takes a lot of practice to get this right if you are not used to it. Check the clip of Boris Johnson saying negotiations, listen to the sound of the ‘oh’ vowel and ‘s’ sound:
“We need to see a bit of oomph in the negotiations”
Feature 5 Throw in some Ancient Greek or Latin phrases or references.
Although this is more connected with the words rather than accents, if I were you I’d brush up on the classics.
Take this quote from Cicero that Boris Johnson used:
“The health of the people should be the supreme law.”
The Latin version is underneath.
salus populi suprema lex esto
It’s quiz time answer
So, at the beginning of the video, I asked you how many Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom went to the University of Oxford. The answer is b.28. Isn’t that incredible.
Now that’s it for today. Before I go - do you have any questions for me? Have you ever been to Oxford? Or studied at the University? Let me know in the comments below.
And don’t forget to subscribe to the channel for more videos on accents and the perfect place to get a better British accent. You could also give the video a thumbs up if you liked the content.
So finally, if you want to be the next British PM then try speaking with an Oxford RP accent. Although it does help if you actually went to Oxford University in the first place, and before that you went to Eton. I’m just saying.
That’s all for today and now please rise for the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, which is………….
hi! it's jon.
Welcome to my blog of free tutorials explaining different British accents and areas of pronunciation. It's a complement to my video channel with video scripts, lessons and sometimes extra info not included in some videos. Click on the image to go to the video.