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Exercise 9

According to the writer, what changes are taking place in the position of Received Pronunciation?

Received pronunciation

Most of us have an image of such a normal or standard English in pronunciation, and very commonly in Great Britain this is ‘Received Pronunciation’, often associated with the public schools, Oxford, and the BBC. Indeed, a pronunciation within this range has great prestige throughout the world, and for English taught as a foreign language it is more usually the ideal than any other pronunciation. At the same time, it must be remembered that, so far as the English-speaking countries are concerned, this ‘Received Pronunciation’ approaches the status of a ‘standard’ almost only in England: educated Scots, Irishmen, Americans, Australians, and others have their own, different images of a standard form of English.
Even in England it is difficult to speak oaf standard in pronunciation. For one thing, pronunciation is infinitely variable, so that even given the will to adopt a single pronunciation, it would be difficult to achieve. The word dance may be pronounced in a dozen ways even by people who do not think of themselves as dialect speakers: there is no sure way of any two people saying the same word with precisely the same sound. In this respect, pronunciation much more closely resembles handwriting than spelling. In spelling, there are absolute distinctions which can be learnt and imitated with complete precision: one can know at once whether a word is spelt in a ‘standard ’way or not. But two persons’ handwriting and pronunciation may both be perfectly intelligible, yet have obvious differences without our being able to say which is ‘better’ or more ‘standard.’
Moreover, while the easy and quick communications of modern times have mixed up and levelled dialectal distinctions to a great extent, and encouraged the spread of ‘neutral’, ‘normal’ pronunciation, the accompanying sociological changes have reduced the prestige of Received Pronunciation. When Mr Robert Graves returned to Oxford in October 1961 to take up the Professorship of Poetry, The Times reported him as saying, ‘Only the ordinary accent of the undergraduate has changed. In my day you very seldom heard anything but Oxford English; now there is a lot of north country and so on. In 1920 it was prophesied that the Oxford accent would overcome all others. But the regional speech proved stronger. A good thing.’

(From Use of English by Randolph Quirk)

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