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Queen Elizabeth the Second's Accent - changes over the years
The Queen's Speech - and how it's changed during her reign
I've always been interested in accents and dialects. That's probably because I have a very distinctive regional British accent - Yorkshire.
How people speak is fascinating - there are so many English speakers but hundreds, or maybe thousands or more, of regional differences.
Queen Elizabeth is probably unique in that for over sixty years, she has been recorded by the media at least once a year, giving linguists a chance to see how her voice has changed during the period of her reign.
The Queen gives at least two speeches during the year - at the opening of parliament and at Christmas. Language experts, and amateurs with an interest, find it fascinating to hear her now and as she was in 1953 when she was crowned.
The Royal Family had developed a rather strange accent which has its roots with Victoria and Albert. He had a fairly heavy German tinge to his speaking voice and this was emulated, probably unconsciously, by everyone in the palace, including their children, and thus spread over time.
Victoria and Albert
No-one know exactly how these royals spoke but it is know that there is a heavy German influence and not only from the Prince. Victoria had a German governess when she was young and of course, her mother was German born.
Something I love about this photograph is that it was taken in Wakefield, Yorkshire, just ten miles from where I was born and brought up. (And I'd love to know what the Queen thinks of our accent).
Language experts have determined that over the years, the Queen's accent has become less 'posh' and this is particularly noticeable by the way that today, her vowels are more flattened. There are videos below of her speaking - one from 1954 and the other from 2013 - and you can hear that in the earlier one her vowels sounds are different. For example, listen out for her saying 'happy' and 'mother'. These come out sounding like 'heppey' and mether'.
This, and other fascinating facts about the English language are studied in detail in this book:
I received this book as a gift and read it almost in one sitting. Usually it's novels that people just can't put down but for me, the astonishing information in this book really keeps readers turning the pages. Dip in and read a chapter or read it from start to finish. Don't miss the brilliant introduction by that master of words, Stephen Fry.
This is a fascinating look into the past and not only just to hear the distinctive way the Queen speaks. This recording was made when she visiting Australia in the year of her coronation. Note too the extreme 'poshness' of the narrator's accent. We are unlikely to hear people speaking in that way today.
Of course, there is a huge difference when you compare the voices of a young woman in her twenties and a lady who is in her eighties. However, you can plainly hear how her vowel sounds have relaxed. The rather strained-sounding vowel sounds are far more mainstream.
The Yorkshire accent
The BBC (British Broadcasting Company) had a policy of employing announcers who spoke extremely correctly. In fact, the accent was known as 'The Queen's English' and later became 'BBC English'. However this was to change in the Second World War.
The government of the day had to be aware of the fact that the BBC could be infiltrated by the Nazis - either after an occupation or subversively. After all, many Germans would be able to copy the accent which had it's roots in their country. They came up with a rather smart solution.
Yorkshireman Wilfred Pickles was employed to read the radio news. The government decided that a regional accent would be much more difficult for a non-English speaker to emulate. You see, no matter how posh we try to sound, those of us from Yorkshire can never quite disguise our origins.
Image of my copy of Planet Word © me.
People with regional accents have to adapt their speech when speaking to others out of the area. It's essential if they are going to be understood. Pickles adjusted his voice accordingly when he was reading the BBC news but the video below shows him in later life and reveals his true way of speaking. How good are you at hearing the differences? The actress in the video is from London - two hundred miles away from Yorkshire.
Now that I've spoken about the Yorkshire accent, I have to admit that there is no such thing as such. Every town, every village even, has its own way of speaking and its own dialect words. This was demonstrated to me several years ago in a used car lot in Fort Lauderdale, of all places.
I was walking on the lot and greeted a guy. I forget exactly what I said but it was just a few words ' Probably 'Hi, how are you?' or something similar. Remember that I'd lived in America for a couple of years so my speech was pretty mainstream,or so I thought.
The guy, who was Jamaican (this story just gets stranger!) said 'You're from Barnsley, aren't you?' He was right. I recognized his own accent and said 'But you're from Jamaica - how did you know?' He explained that he had lived in Wakefield for a few years so was fully familiar with both that city's accent and that from the town of Barnsley less than a dozen miles away.
The video below is interesting because it demonstrates three ways of speaking. The postman (mailman, sorry) has a mainstream Yorkshire accent. The announcer ids American. The older man who is interviewed is from the North of the region and explains several dialect words.
And just for fun
It's not just her accent that has 'relaxed' over the years. People who have met the Queen invariably remark on her sense of humour. The wonderful thing about this clip is, that when we (and everyone else) was watching it live on television, the suspense before Her Majesty is revealed is very clever. We were all expecting it to be Helen Mirren or some other lookalike.
As most British people know, the royal family are known for their sense of humor. When the producers of the Olympic opening first thought of the Queen's parachute jump, they first asked Princess Anne what she thought. Eyes twinkling, Anne merely said 'Why don't you ask her?' - she knew perfectly well that her mother would agree!
When I was younger, I was pretty anti-royal. Now, I absolutely adore the lady.
I have so much enjoyed writing this because it combines two of my interests - the British Royal Family and linguistics, especially when applied to regional dialects and received pronunciation.
Read more about Queen Elizabeth and her reign.
© 2013 Jackie Jackson