|Her Majesty the Queen|
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!
- The Nature summary cited above (pdf)
- The original study by Harrington, Palethorpe and Watson (pdf)
- Jonathan Harrington’s 2006 followup in the Journal of Phonetics, An acoustic analysis of ‘happy-tensing’ in the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts (2006)
- To read the layman’s summary of all this, see How the Queen’s English has grown more like ours in The Telegraph
- The transcripts for all of the Queen’s Christmas Messages since 1952