Characteristics of RP

The following is a list of prominent characteristics of the RP accent.

Standard Vowel Sounds

The vowel sounds of modern RP tends to follow the same pattern as Southern British English.

However, the long vowel sounds of RP can be slightly elongated compared to other accents such as Cockney and Estuary.

Examples of this include the long vowel sound /ɑː/ as in ‘bath’ and /uː/ as in shoe. Note that even amongst RP speakers, the length of these vowel sounds can vary. You may also notice this when comparing tradition RP with modern RP.

Stop Consonants

A stop consonant, also known as a plosive, is a type of consonant sound characterized by the complete closure of the vocal tract which obstructs the airflow, followed by a sudden release. This closure creates a build-up of air pressure behind the closure, which is then released with an audible burst when the closure is released.

For example, in the word ‘hot’, there is a brief stopping of air priot to the /t/ sound. The air is then released on the /t/ sound which is what makes the plosive sounds of RP distintly aspirated.

Rounding of the Lips & Careful Articulation of the /w/ Sound

One distinctive feature of Received Pronunciation is the rounding of the lips. This can be observed in words that contain the /w/ sound and also in vowel sounds such as /u/, /əʊ/ and /ʊə/. The rounding of the lips also helps with aspiration.

Aspiration from the Front of the Mouth

Aspiration is a key component of RP. The sounds are aspirated from the front of the mouth. The various regions of the vocal tract also tend to be relaxed. We can also observe this in the plosive sounds such as /p/, /b/ and /t/, etc. 

Cockney English tends to use the pharyngeal region and therefore sounds more gutteral. 

Non-rhotic sounds

The /r/ sound only appears before a vowel sound, never after a vowel sound.

For example, the word ‘brother’ ends on s schwa sound with a relaxed tongue avoiding rolling of the tongue. The /r/ sound is also dropped midsyllable with words such as ‘curve’ (/kɜːv/).

General American is rhotic. Words such as ‘brother’ are pronounced with the rolling of the tongue at the end.

Dark /l/

The dark /l/ sound tends to be articulated at end of words such as ‘fall’, ‘call’ and ‘wall’. 

In cockney and Estuary English, the dark /l/ tends to be substituted with the /w/ sound.

Articulation of /θ/ and /ð/

The /θ/ sound in words such as ‘think’ and ‘thought’ and the /ð/ sound in words such as ‘this’ and ‘then’ are clearly articulated.

Clear articulation of the /r/ sound

The /r/ sound in Received Pronunciation is clearly articulated. Accents such as Cockney or Estuary may substitute the /r/ for a /w/ sound.