How Queen's English has grown more like ours
By Neil Tweedie
Last Updated: 4:26pm GMT 04/12/2006
Video: Judge for yourself
As the common tongue continues its inexorable slide towards a new dark age of glottal stops and "innits", news comes that even the Queen is drifting slowly down river towards Estuary English.
A scientific study of Christmas broadcasts to the Commonwealth since 1952 suggests the royal vowel sounds have undergone a subtle evolution since the days when coal was routinely delivered to Buckingham Palace in sex.
|The Queen in 1998 had become ‘definitely less upper class’|
Her Majesty may not be quite ready to engage in fully-fledged Bermondsey banter with Jade Goody, but her speech has nevertheless followed the general trend from cut-glass URP (Upper Rec-eived Pronunciation) towards the more democratic Standard Received Pronunciation and its close relative, Standard Southern British English.
The findings are contained in the Journal of Phonetics, which, in addition to the Queen, addresses such topics as, "The temporal domains of accent in Finnish" and "Perceptual correlates of Cantonese tones".
Jonathan Harrington, Professor of Phonetics at the University of Munich, and author of the study on the Queen, said his team had conducted a thorough acoustic analysis of all the Christmas broadcasts during her reign.
"We chose the broadcasts because it is very rare indeed to find high-quality recordings of a person's voice stretching back over such a long period," he said. "The changes in the Queen's speech have been very, very slow, but they are there nevertheless."In 1952 she would have been heard referring to 'thet men in the bleck het'. Now it would be 'that man in the black hat'.
"Similarly, she would have spoken of the citay and dutay, rather than citee and dutee, and hame rather than home In the 1950s she would have been lorst, but by the 1970s lost."
And indeed, the Queen's first Christmas broadcast was pure Dartington Crystal.
She began: "As he (King George VI) used to do, I em speaking to you from my own hame, where I em spending Christmas with my femly."
Prof Harrington said he did not believe the changes in the royal delivery were a conscious attempt to lower social barriers.
"Half a century ago the social classes were much more demarcated.
"That changed with the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and the much greater blurring of boundaries," he said.
"I don't think the Queen changed consciously at all. What the study suggests is that we all participate in sound changes, whether we like it or not. The Queen has merely altered her way of speaking in line with her host community in south-east England."
But did that mean that she would soon be mixing it with Jade darn the Dog n' Duck?
"She may be drifting slowly downstream towards Estuary, but she has a very, very long way to go before she gets anywhere near the open sea."
The historian and royal biographer Kenneth Rose said the Queen's accent had undoubtedly changed during her reign.
"She has become definitely less upper class — dropping an octave and coming nearer to her own 'Queen's English', by which I mean nearer to standard English," he said.
"There have always been variations in royal speech. The Queen Mother was the embodiment of the upper class lady in the first class compartment, while George V was more like a hoarse country gentleman.
Edward VIII adopted a kind of upper class cockney, talking of "moi house", but after his marriage began to sound more American.
"About two or three years ago I was sitting next to the Queen at tea and she remarked that some of her grandchildren talked Estuary. I think she was talking about the Phillips children — but then Princess Anne always sounded a little suburban.
"And then there's Prince Edward, who sounds a bit Estuary — whereas the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester are proper country gents."
And was Her Majesty happy about the Estuarisation of the Royal Family.
"She was absolutely neutral on the subject."
Is one bovvered? Does one look bovvered? One thinks not.'A merry Christmas and a happay New Yeah'