Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast - How the Queen’s English has Changed Over Time

Her Majesty the Queen
In 1932, George V began a tradition of broadcasting a Royal Message to the Commonwealth of Nations at Christmas. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has continued this annual tradition.

I was going to simply post the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast for you to enjoy, but this reminded me of a study on language and pronunciation which I’d like to share with you.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “the Queen’s English”, referring to a certain accent of English as spoken in the south of England (aka Received Pronunciation).

This accent is often associated with money, privilege, and the upper class -- the British monarch is held up as an example of perfect diction. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare refers to ‘an old abusing of God's patience and the king's English.’

Interestingly, Her Majesty the Queen arguably no longer speaks the Queen’s English of the 1950s. In fact, it turns out that the Queen’s speech has perceptibly drifted, becoming “definitely less upper-class” according to royal biographer Kenneth Rose.

This drift in the Queen’s pronunciation was empirically studied by Jonathan Harrington, Sallyanne Palethorpe and Catherine Watson, who published research in 2000 that acoustically analyzed those Royal Christmas Broadcasts, to see whether the Queen’s pronunciation of certain vowels changed over time (Monophthongal vowel changes in Received Pronunciation: an acoustic analysis of the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts, in Journal of the International Phonetic Association, later abbreviated in Nature).

The researchers found that there had been a “fairly dramatic change from the 1950s to the late 1960s/early 1970s, with very little change thereafter to the mid-late 1980s”.

Listen for yourself -- here’s the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast for this year: link

and for comparison, the 1957 Christmas Broadcast: link

God Save the Queen! And Merry Christmas!

Complete reading: