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Matinee Blog

The Queen

Is The Queen Really Becoming Frightfully Common?

As The Queen’s 90th Birthday celebrations begin, we take a look back at something she has been well known for over the many years – her voice. David Robson’s blog dissects The Queen’s accent over a period of time. And we ask the question, is she really losing her accent and becoming ever so common?

RP aka Received Pronunciation; is associated with educational or formal speakers, it was known to derive from the South East of England and became a marker of class when the BBC endorsed its use. Some of us would say Queen Elizabeth still owns a RP accent but there is no doubt that there has been a shift in the voices of the whole Royal Family of today.

In the past, for instance, RP speakers may have said “poor” and “moor” with a diphthong – a combination of two vowel sounds – so that it sounds something like “poo-uh”; today, they are more likely to pronounce the words so that they sound identical to “paw” and “maw”. Conversely, the Ys at the end of words like “really” and “very” have become longer, and less clipped than in the past (when they sounded closer to the E in “pet”).

Let’s compare a couple of videos of Her Majesty; this one was published in 1957, it was the first time The Queen’s Christmas message was filmed as up till then it was broadcasted annually on the radio. As you can hear, The Queen pronounces her words in a notorious upper class manner.  Listen to the way she says ‘family’ and ‘see me’ (Yes, we heard you imitating those lines, we did it too)

It does seem like a rather unfamiliar accent in 2016. And it is familiarity that captures our attention these days, that’s why in the history of Matinée we have seen the popularity of RP accent requests drop significantly as people opt for more recognisable and friendly regional accents.

Let’s look at the most recent Christmas speech and notice how she has slightly lost that very proper twang. It may be due to the fact that while she was growing up she was not surrounded or as integrated with many ‘common’ people. And it was during the 50s that working class citizens started to make names for themselves and be associated with power and popularity in Britain. But do we think that the Queen is actively trying to make herself sound less ‘proper’? Some suspect she might even have taken lessons to alter her speech.

Harrington is sceptical that the Queen took some kind of elocution lessons in a conscious effort to sound less upper class. His analyses of the Christmas Broadcasts suggest the vowels slid slowly, almost imperceptibly from year to year – whereas if she was deliberately trying to emulate her subjects, then you would expect to hear a more abrupt shift. (Harrington, J. Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich).

So maybe The Queen is more aware of the power of accent or maybe she has subconsciously adapted her voice to match the accents of those around her. Our theory is that she is subtly trying to lose her RP way so she can get a voice-over job using a popular English regional accent with Matinée. How about it then, could she be the voice of the next bacon butty ad?