Leeds 1966: Some early evidence of “new RP”?

A number of linguists have noted that Received Pronunciation (RP) has changed during the last half century; however, they have not always agreed on nature of this development. Phonological data collected by Charles Houck in 1966-67 from residents of Leeds might shed some light on this change. Of Houck’s twenty two subjects, two were born in and/or spent their formative years in Durham, fourteen were from Yorkshire, one was from Derbyshire, two were from Buckinghamshire and three from London.

In other words, with only five exceptions, all of the subjects were northerners. The seventy-one item questionnaire used by Houck elicited single word responses, from which tokens of three vowels, SQUARE, PRICE and TRAP, are extracted for examination. Houck’s randomly sampled speakers exhibit a striking lack of the most marked RP and regional speech characteristics. It is suggested that the 1960s Leeds data, for the variables observed, provide definite hints of today’s modern RP in an urban population of the period. These real time data raise questions about what might be overly simplistic notions regarding the development of RP, and the direction of its spread.

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