-Great Britain, aka Britain (geographic region tied to ‘British’ nationality classification) is made up of 3 countries: England, Scotland and Wales.

-The United Kingdom consists of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland.

-England has a population of 55.98 million people (as of 2018). Its capital, London (also the capital of the United Kingdom as a whole), has a population of 8.982 million (2019).

-There are over 250 languages spoken in London, making it one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world. Greater London is by far Britain’s largest metropolis, and is also the region’s economic, transportation, and cultural centre.

-English is the national language of England, and the most widely spoken language throughout the UK – around 98% of the UK’s population speaks English.

-English is a Germanic language; a branch of the Indo-European language family spoken mainly in Europe, North America, Oceania and Southern Africa. It is also estimated to be the world’s most widely spoken language.

-With such wide reach, there are many different accents – perhaps dialects? – of English. Of those many accents, one has historically been deemed the ‘standard’; a term which unfortunately has been weaponized in the many countries where English is spoken. This ‘standard’ – which should be noted, is an entirely subjective classification – came to be known as Received Pronunciation, and is the origin of the So-Called “Southern England-ish” (perhaps) accent that we will be exploring in this breakdown.


There is some debate about where Received Pronunciation (RP) originated from. Perhaps the merger of England, Scotland and Wales in the early 1700’s, “necessitated” (a subjective necessity) the establishment of ‘uniform’ manners of speech. Whatever the origin, the 1800s in England saw the rise of the ‘Elocution Movement’, wherein ‘Elocutionists’ – usually those who had been or were still public speakers themselves, like actors or preachers – would tutor people in what was deemed to be ‘polite and effective ways of speaking’. **It is always important to note that these judgements are subjective, and were made by a select group of people. They should by no means be seen as fact.

So why was this particular set of sounds deemed the ‘polite and effective’ accent? Simply put; the most populated and prosperous area of England during the 14th and 15th centuries was London and surrounds. By the 16th century, a ‘standard’ of pronunciation had developed, based on the high society in London, and it is likely that this is basis for the Elocution Movement.

” People in the South-East, around the capital, of course, considered their way of speaking to be superior. By the end of the 18th century, the accent used there by the upper classes had become the pronunciation to imitate if one wanted to appear cultured. As social mobility became more viable, the demands of an up-and-coming middle class wanting to speak in a way that wouldn’t be criticized or judged badly by those from higher society, grew. Lessons in ‘correct’ pronunciation, also known as elocution lessons, became more common. And an elocution movement grew to meet these demands.”Cambridge article on RP

This manner of speaking was eventually termed Received Pronunciation. That is to say; it was the pronunciation that would be ‘received’ (accepted/approved) by high society. We can trace its spread to the public schools (IMPORTANT: in England, private schools are referred to as public schools!) and the universities of 19th century Britain – in fact, phonetician Daniel Jones initially used the term ‘Public School Pronunciation’ to describe this accent.

To skim through 100’s of years of history…

-Over the course of the 19th century, young men from the ruling and privileged classes increasingly attended boarding schools (such as Winchester, Eton, Harrow and Rugby) and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

-At these establishments, they were taught Received Pronunciation, which they then took home to their families, and the wives and children they went on to marry and father.

-As a result, RP came to be associated with the Establishment (see quote below), and therefore gained a unique status as an accent connoting wealth and power.

“In Britain, the establishment has traditionally been understood along historical class lines, as a network of people who attend the best private schools, go on to Oxbridge [Oxford + Cambridge] and then take prominent positions in the arts, politics and industry.” Time to Talk

Because of this unique status, it was standard practice until as recent as the 1950’s for people in England – specifically, university students – to adjust their accents to be closer to RP. One’s accent could dictate one’s job and place in society. The accent’s status also led to its adoption by the BBC – to the extent that it has also often been referred to as BBC English – and was the accent heard on British television in England and throughout the world. As a result, it’s understandable that for many around the globe, this is believed to be ‘the accent of Great Britain’.

**An interesting little tidbit: An 1891 teacher’s handbook stated, “It is the business of educated people to speak so that no-one may be able to tell in what county their childhood was passed.” This was one of the chief goals of RP: to be (again, subjectively) “region-less”.

So what does an RP accent sound like? Why don’t we use Sir David Attenborough as an example. While his accent is certainly more modern than a 19th century RP speaker, he’s still a fantastic example of a more classic iteration of the So-Called “Southern England-ish” accent.

Let's take a brief moment to consider the repercussions of the Elocution Movement... 

The Elocution Movement created a standard that was deemed the only 'polite and effective' way of speaking - the only accent accepted or received by those in power. As a result, any other manner of speaking was considered 'less than'. This can be seen all over the world, with those who do not speak in an RP accent - or a version of it - being deemed 'unintelligent' and 'uncultured', amongst many other negative descriptors. 

Accent does not denote intelligence, and there is no one correct way of speaking. Assumptions like these serve only to divide and cause harm - and often end up being turned on those who make them...


After World War II, society in Great Britain began to change. The Labour Party came into power, the NHS was created, job opportunities broadened, and classes became more intertwined. As a result, accents that had once been deemed ‘regional’ were less stigmatized – nowadays, in fact, many will try to disguise their So-Called Southern England-ish accent, because of the negative connotations that are often associated with it. But more on that in our Q&A…


Who better to tell us about their world and accent, than our donors themselves!

It’s my great joy to introduce you to Henry, Hannah, Katie, and a friend who prefers to remain anonymous. We’ll call him J, and you’ll hear his voice every so often.

  • Let’s put this to rest once and for all: does everyone in England sound the same?
  • What are some factors that lead to a speaker having this particular accent?
Summary: some factors that may contribute to having this accent –>
public schooling + upper-middle to upper class ancestry
  • Nowadays, are there any stigma’s attached to this accent?
  • With an awareness of the stigma’s attached to your accent – and accents in general, in England – do you find yourself code-switching depending on who you’re speaking to?

REFERENCES / FURTHER READING (if it strikes your fancy!)