Hello it’s Jon, your pronunciation and accents coach and right here you can get a better British accent. Today we are looking at the BBC accent and RP and wondering how they are different. I’ll also show you how to read like a classic BBC newsreader.
Plus, at the end of the video I’ll show you what might be the high point of the BBC accent. Here’s a clue - still not sure? Watch till the end.
BBC and RP
So, The BBC, also called the Beeb, goes way back to the 1920s. Now, the director general of the Beeb wanted to find an accent that, firstly, wouldn’t be laughed at (yes that’s true) and that it would be understandable by the majority of the population.
Anyway, the boffins at the Beeb decided that RP or Received Pronunciation would be the perfect accent for their broadcasters. There was even an advisory committee set up to create a slightly modified RP that would be specific to the BBC, so that they could decide the pronunciation of specific words, especially non-English words. Hence the term BBC English.
So, pre-war you could also say that by today’s standards the accent is a version of RP called Conservative or Traditional RP, an accent that is so unique that it is spoken by about 2-3% of the British population. I’ve already made a video on that so just click on the link in the description or right here to go to how to speak posh & RP - Conservative RP.
But here’s the thing - the BBC created a handbook of pronunciation. So I thought, what a better way than to look at some of these BBC words and then try and read them as a BBC newsreader.
Let’s look at these words that the BBC highlighted because of their pronunciation (bear in my that this is from 1929):
Feature 1 - Let’s get stressed!
The BBC have written specific instructions on syllable stress for certain words. Nowadays, when you look up words in online dictionaries, it may give you two different syllable stress patterns for some words in British English. Maybe this is the influence of the BBC!
I’ll give you an example. Let’s look up the word garage:
You see there are two different ways of saying it in British English. Garage and Garaz.
So here is a list of BBC words with instructions on syllable stress:
Controversy has the stress on the first syllable.
Dispute - second syllable stress on both noun and verb.
Finance - stress is on the second syllable.
Formidable - stress on first syllable (we say it on the second syllable these days)
Gondola - stress on first syllable
Garage this changed from garaz to garage and then back to garaz) (both are accepted nowadays)
Kilometre Has the stress on the first syllable so we don’t say kilOmetre we say Kilometre and that’s the same as nowadays.
So a newsreader could read the headline:
DisPUTE erupts over the FORmidable CONtroversy surrounding the FInances of a gaRAGE in Dover.
Feature 2 pronounce your h’s
So, some words have been specifically highlighted with an instruction to sound the ‘h’ in words like ‘hotel’ and ‘humour’. So, don’t read them like ‘umour or ‘otel. Sounds too Cockney, that!
So you could read the headline:
In Venice, gondola crashes into hotel, making the gondolier lose sense of humour.
Feature 3 - hard or soft ‘g’
The guide recommends that gynecology is with a hard ‘g' like ‘go’ on the first ‘g’, and hydrogen is with a soft ‘g’ like gentle.
Feature 4 - Focus on vowel sounds
Haunt - is said with the vowel sound of paw.
Gouge is sounded like ‘how’ and not ‘who’.
Hovel is pronounced like ‘novel’ not ‘shovel’.
So a BBC newsreader might read the headline:
Workmen find hydrogen bomb in haunted hovel.
Now here’s a fact -
The first regional (non-RP accent) was used at the BBC in 1941!
Part 2 Post WW2
Nowadays, BBC presenters either speak in Contemporary RP or have a regional accent. In fact, pretty much any accent goes now. These days there is something called the BBC pronunciation unit which still monitors pronunciation. For example they have decided that BBC broadcasters say Hyundai. They also have an interesting way of transcribing the words too, so, for example, the word ‘pronunciation’ would be written as pruh-nun-si-AY-shuhn. They have written out this text spelling for all vowel and consonant sounds to make it easier for newsreaders and presenters.
Words whose recommended pronunciation has stood the test of time include Auld Lang Syne (‘sign’, not ‘zine’), centenary (‘sentéenări’, not ‘-tenn-’)
The BBC accent reached its high point in a short film called the Spaghetti Harvest. Yes, that’s right - the BBC made a film about spaghetti growing on trees. It was actually made for April Fool’s Day and is now cemented in BBC history. The narrator has a typical BBC English accent so I have left a link in the description for you to watch. Enjoy!
So, it seems like RP was chosen by the BBC as the standard language to be used by broadcasters and they adapted it at will to create a unique version of RP we can call BBC English.
So there you go, give a thumbs up and like the video or comment on what you find most interesting about BBC English.
All I have to do now is say Stay connected and goodbye!
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.