Serendipitously, not long after writing my last post, I watched a TV programme called “The Queen: in her own words“, which, as it said on the tin, included many examples of her speaking, the extracts used coming from the whole of her public life, from the first radio broadcast during the Second World War, when she was a teenager, up to the present day.
It was immediately obvious that over that period, nearly 80 years, her accent had changed. This was commented on by the narrator, and Jane Setter, the Professor of Phonetics at Reading University, as most of my readers will know, was asked about this (starting at around 50 minutes into the programme). It was probably a result of the cutting, which is always done for journalistic priorities rather than factual accuracy (I speak from personal experience!), but Jane appeared to be saying that the Queen had deliberately changed her accent in order to sound more approachable and more ‘like one of us’ rather than distant, speaking from somewhere ‘up there’.
Unless there is any documentary evidence for this, I think it is far more likely that as a result of her exposure to a much wider range of accents, her own has, like mine, changed by imperceptible degrees, just as all accents are gradually changing. As a child, the Queen and Princess Margaret did not go to school, but had a governess. Their language models were probably restricted to a very narrow range of variation. Starting when she was allowed to join the ATS when she was eighteen, and learned to drive as her contribution to the war effort, she would begin to experience a wider variety of speech. There would not be an immediate effect, but perhaps this was what started the change.
In the 1970s and 80s, it became noticeable that the TRAP vowel was changing from its relatively high front quality to a more open version. Princess Anne and the actor Anna Massey were both pilloried in the press for using this pronunciation, and often spelled “Princess Unne” and “Unna Mussey” to show that adherents of the older pronunciation felt they were replacing it by the STRUT vowel. And also to imply that they were doing it deliberately to show that they were trying to sound more egalitarian. This criticism has disappeared, presumably because most people now use the more open version of TRAP, and the old one belongs to what is often described as a ‘cut-glass’ accent.
It is strange how assumptions can change and reverse direction. Calling an accent “cut glass” appears to imply that it is an affectation, and yet when Princess Anne was accused of using the less cut-glass version of TRAP, this in its turn was ‘blamed’ on affectation.
Are these not just more examples of accentism?