Received Pronunciation (RP) is an accent of British English that is generally thought of as the stereotypical accent of the British aristocracy, and the standard British accent for use on film, radio and television. It is still in many cases the accent which is taught to learners of English as a second language. This and the dialect known as 'Standard English' are sometimes called 'BBC English' or 'the Queen's English'.
The use of RP on radio, television and in schools and universities is primarily due to the idea that Received Pronunciation is a universal accent which the vast majority of English speakers can understand. Indeed, its connection with the educated and aristocratic comes from it being taught at public schools like Eton and Harrow, which were responsible for its establishment from about 1800 (before then even the gentry spoke regional forms of English) and at Oxbridge. The accent tends to be associated with middle-class people from the south of England, but is spoken by a limited number of people throughout the country.
Use of RP has dropped off significantly in recent years, due to more relaxed attitudes towards broadcasting non-RP dialects on radio and television, a reduction in the teaching of RP at schools and less social insistence on it being proper. Indeed, some English speakers now see refined RP as outdated, posh, stuffy and slightly ridiculous. Politicians have often had to taper their RP accent when seeking office so as to appeal to the populace, while in former times others have had to take voice training to make their accent sound more like RP (Margaret Thatcher being a well-known example).
All accents change over time, and RP is no exception. It has been noted that even the accent of Queen Elizabeth II has changed since her accession. Across the south-east of England, RP has merged with other local accents, particularly the non-standard accent of London, to form 'Estuary English', an accent which mingles some aspects of RP and others with its own innovations.
- Harrington, Palethorpe & Watson (2000).