Public School Received Pronunciation: Sholto talks about settling in at Harrow, having come from a Scottish prep school



This recording is an example of a Received Pronunciation accent.

Sholto speaks with an accent that most of us would associate with private schools. Many of the vowel sounds he uses have a traditional RP ring, but he also uses a small number of pronunciations characteristic of contemporary RP. In other words, he uses certain features we only encounter among younger speakers.

A tapped consonant

Listen, for instance, to how he pronounces <t>. He generally uses a ‘normal’ <t> sound, produced when the tip of the tongue makes solid contact with the roof of the mouth. But he occasionally also uses a tapped ‘t’ – a sound produced by flicking (tapping) the tip of his tongue against the roof of his mouth, making only brief and rapid contact. This happens when <t> appears between vowels or before <l> and makes the consonant sound a little closer to a <d> sound. Listen, for instance, to the way he says getting and got to in the phrases getting to know everybody and it’s got to be a tenner or the way he pronounces the ‘filler’, sort of and the conjunction, but, in the statements but I hope none of, not all of it will go and but it didn’t happen to me. This tapped ‘t’ is a traditional feature of a number of English accents, including RP, and is, of course, a very frequent feature in US English.

Another <t> altogether

Sholto can also be heard occasionally T-glottaling – substituting a glottal stop for a <t> sound between vowels or at the end of a word. Listen to the way he pronounces the following: the size of it; they’re not as well, uhm, adapted; quite easy-going; there’s a lot of traditions going around; some of it has and probably will go; about eleven words; it is quite difficult and I’ve got my exams. This is an age-specific feature, heard among younger speakers the length and breadth of the country, rather than characteristic of a particular accent. Intriguingly, it can arouse disapproval in some circles, even though it is a distinctively British innovation. It is not a feature of any US accent, and thus is one of many examples that British English and American English, in terms of pronunciation at least, are diverging rather than converging.

The odd surprise

One intriguing feature of Sholto’s speech is that, among the RP norms, he uses the occasional surprising pronunciation. Listen, for instance, to the initial vowel sound he uses in the words after and ask in the statements after those two weeks, someone who looks after you, we were asking sort of silly questions and after the age of sixteen. This sound is normally associated with speech in the north, although he in fact goes on to use a more RP vowel in the word answer when he says I wasn’t really listening for the answer. This fluctuation is probably a reflection of his Scottish roots. It is a wonderful example of how RP, although easy to define in principle, actually comes in a variety of subtly different forms.

About the speaker 

Sholto Morgan (b.1982/07/03; male; school pupil)



Matthew: What's been the hardest thing to adapt to in coming to Harrow?[1]

Sholto: Uhm, well, the size of it and the amount of people, because there are nearly eight hundred boys or more at the school. And, uhm, just getting to know everybody, as you have to, sort of, get on and no one, or you, it's, sort of, either you sink or you swim and I'm managing to stay afloat at the moment, so.

Matthew: When you say people sink, what happens if they sink?

Sholto: Well, uhm, they don't, they don't leave as such; it's, uhm, there are, there are a very few people, but they, they do have friends, but they just don't achieve what they, you know, wanted to achieve when they came. And they go, they, they're fine when they go to, uhm, university, but they're not as, uhm, well adapted as, you know, they've got to start again. Whereas Harrow, I think they try to, uhm, you're sort of, you've mu, it's much easier for you to talk to new people. And, uhm, I mean some of my friends who actually went to a Scottish school, they're, uhm, quite difficult; because they know me it's all right, but some of them find it quite difficult to speak to other boys. Whereas I, sort of, I think I'd see myself as being quite easy-going and even getting up a conversation with someone else.

Matthew: Do you think H, there are certain values that Harrow likes to encourage in its pupils?

Sholto: Uhm, there's a lot of tradition going around and, uhm, some of it is, some of it is, has and probably will go, but I hope none of, not all of it will go, because, uhm, it's quite nice having all these, uhm, boards around saying, “Winston Churchill came here”[2] and “John Peel”[3] [sic], uhm, and I think some of the traditions, like there, there have been some relatively school words that have, uhm, come around, like there was the word 'tosh', which sounds quite rude, but it was, uhm, actually means 'bath'. And that, sort of, that was in the new boys' booklet when we came, and of, a sort of list of about eleven words we had to learn. And, uhm, it was, it was quite difficult, because 'tosh' means 'bath' and, and 'flicks' is 'lights out' and, and the only one that I can actually think of off the top of my head is 'bluer', which is our blue blazer that we wear.

Matthew: So you had these eleven words you had to u, that are, kind of, like, uhm, your, sort of, Harrow words?

Sholto: Yeah, and, uhm, 'duckers' 'swimming', which isn't used really any more. And, uhm, it was, it was, sort of, w, interesting, but it was, when I came the, sort of, the boy that showed me round sort of said, uhm, “This is, you don't need to know this word and you don't need to know that word. Don't bother learning that, I mean, no teacher really cares about that word."

Matthew: Were there any initiation, sort of, ceremonies or, I don't know, uh, sort of, pranks that, uh, that happens to new boys?

Sholto: Uhm, yes, there was one, but it wa, didn't happen to me: it was, uhm, a b, b, a 'shell', when, because that's the first year are called 'shells'; they, uhm, had, a boy, a boy came up to him in his second week and said, uhm, uhm, “I'll give you a tenner if I can smash two eggs over your head." And, uhm, of course he, uhm, smashed one egg over the head and this other, this boy said, “Come on, get me, give me the second one; give me the second one!" And he didn't, and he says, uhm, and he says, “Can, well, at least give me a fiver," he says, but the deal was, uhm, do you know, have a, it's got to be a tenner for two. So this, so that was one, sort of thing. And they just, I think the boys just want to see how you'll react. It's quite, it's quite funny, I mean, I haven't actually done any initiation ceremonies myself, as such.

Matthew: What ha, what is the, the kind of the life of a, of a 'shell'; what's their, what's the routine?

Sholto: Uhm, well, in the first two weeks of your time here, you have a sort of, uhm, I can't remember what it's called, but you get given, uhm, you don't have to have any, sort of, duties as such, you just settle in and you learn to go to, uhm, your lessons and you find out where everything is. And then after those two weeks it can either be very difficult, because you're used to this, uhm, this sort of sanction. And, uhm, I mean boys find it, I mean, it is quite difficult, but you get into the way of it if you've got a good, uhm, 'shadow' when you come.

Matthew: What's a 'shadow'?

Sholto: Someone who looks after you: a guy in the 'removes', which is the second year at Harrow.

Matthew: Where do 'shells', uhm, sleep? Where's their, sort of, base?

Sholto: Uhm, well, they sleep in the house and, uhm, in the first two years you share with another boy. And so, uhm, it's, it's, the first night I have to say is quite a scary one, because you're sleeping in a room with another boy that you don't know. And, uhm, it was, it's strange, because, uhm, I, I, in my first night I had a boy who knew one of my friends from Scotland and he's also here. And, uhm, we were, we, we were striking up a conversation, but it was, I mean, it's strange if you meet a new person and lying the bed and we were asking, sort of, uh, sort of, silly questions, like, uhm, “So, you're from England? Oh, where from?" and, you know, he'd already told me probably, but I hadn't been paying attention; I wasn't really listening for the answer. And, uhm, it's bizarre, first, your first night.

Matthew: Do you get a chance to choose who you share with?

Sholto: Uhm, not in your first term, but from then on you get to choose who you're sharing with.

Matthew: And then in your third year?

Sholto: Uh, my third year, uhm, I've got my own room now. Uhm, bec, probably because I've got, well, I've got my exams and we're older and it's, sort of a, probably seen as quite bizarre having, uhm, boys, you know, share, after the, at the age of sixteen.


[1] Harrow School, founded in 1572, is a famous boarding school for boys.

[2] Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874–1965) served as British Prime Minister between 1940 & 1945 and again between 1951 & 1955.

[3] Sholto here unintentionally confuses the late DJ, broadcaster and Old Salopian, John Peel (1939–2004) with Robert Peel (1788–1850) who did indeed attend Harrow School and later served two terms as British Prime Minister. He is most famous for creating the Metropolitan Police Force while serving as Home Secretary in 1829.

Public School Received Pronunciation: Sholto talks about settling in at Harrow, having come from a Scottish prep school
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