I’ve just learned the expression received pronunciation: the official standard queen style or accent!

I'm not native speaker, but why use the word received here instead of standard or officially accepted?

Received is when you receive something physically, like a parcel from a friend and such. Isn’t it?

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    The definition of ‘received’ conveys its original meaning of ‘accepted’ or ‘approved’ – as in ‘received wisdom’BL.UK (Got it from a cursory Google search.) Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 14:41
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    There is no such thing as "official" for English. (Unless you're talking about the dialect used by officials.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 14:52
  • 'Approved' suggests very strongly that everything else is 'unapproved', unacceptable. Using a rarer polyseme (the 'accepted' sense of received) defuses this. Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 14:54
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    @EdwinAshworth Vide infra.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 15:48
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    Does this answer your question? 'Received' - path from literal to figurative
    – jsw29
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


‘Received things’ ≠ ‘Things received’

We don’t really use received as an attributive adjective in the sense of physical delivery and reception very often. For example, you don’t talk about received packages, but you can have packages received before noon with a participial phrase.

However, what you can have is a well-received first novel. Now the word received means something quite different here, much more like what it means in received pronunciation. This is the use that confused you, and it is not restricted to pronunciation.

RP: The whilom cool form of English

Once upon a time long ago and far away, it used to be that RP was considered the ‘cool’ form of English pronunciation. It’s a complicated matter, but the very notion of RP is tied up with social class and caste, and therefore with education and wealth and power, in the southern England of yesteryear.

Indeed, Wiktionary says that Received Pronunciation is:

The form of pronunciation of the English language traditionally spoken by the educated classes of the south-east of England, considered to be a standard (see received) and used as such in the pronunciation schemes of most British dictionaries.

Abbreviation: RP
Synonyms: BBC English, King’s English, Queen’s English, RP

The OED has a fascinating public article about all this here, in which they write:

In Britain, for example, factors such as mass literacy and a largely centralized broadcasting service led over the twentieth century to a certain levelling out of regional linguistic differences. A high-profile recent manifestation of this has been so-called ‘Estuary English’ (a term coined in the 1980s by the linguist David Rosewarne). Elements of East London working-class speech, perhaps most notably the glottal stop, are found to be infiltrating the utterance of middle and upper-middle class speakers, and have been identified as far from their point of origin as northern England and even Scotland. Fears of an enervating homogeneity in British English are surely misplaced, though. The grip which Standard English, and its vocal manifestation Received Pronunciation, exercised on the language in the early and middle part of the twentieth century has relaxed somewhat, and greater variety in accent, grammar, etc. is now tolerated. And London and other urban centres are constantly having their linguistic resources revitalized by immigrants speaking other varieties of English and other languages entirely.

In a related article dicsussing the evolution of acceptable pronunciation of Australian English, they write:

And then, at the end of the nineteenth century, something curious and largely unpredictable happened to Australian English. In response to a newly-developed concept of Received Pronunciation in Britain, which was closely tied to notions of social prestige, some Australian speakers modified their vowels and diphthongs in order to move them towards the British exemplars. From the 1890s, and well into the 1950s, elocution was in the air, and elocution teachers found a ready market for the teaching of British vowels and diphthongs to the socially-aspirational classes. This modified form of Australian speech came to be called Cultivated Australian.

In providing ‘British’ transcriptions for the OED’s third edition, they explain in this article:

The term RP is much debated. Many linguists argue that it is outdated, reflecting the prestigious standard of the socially and economically elite; a socially acceptable (i.e. ‘received’) form based on the speech of privately-educated men and their families (the ‘Public School Pronunciation’ described by Jones 1917). In his analysis and deconstruction of RP, Wells (1982) highlighted the variation within it, distinguishing between ‘mainstream RP’, ‘U-RP’ (‘upper crust’ RP), ‘adoptive RP’ (for speakers who did not acquire RP as children) and even ‘quasi-RP’ (varying from adoptive RP in certain allophonic respects), and ‘near-RP’ (not falling with the definition of RP but with few clearly regional features).

In attempts to steer towards a broader and more contemporary conceptualization free of the more objectionable social connotations of ‘RP’, many alternative names have been proposed, including ‘Modern Received Pronunciation’, ‘Standard Southern British English’, ‘BBC English’ (see e.g. Roach 2004), and ‘Non-Regional Pronunciation’.

If you stop and think about it, this isn’t really all that very far removed from the use of received in “ᴀᴅᴠᴇʀʙ received”, such as in well received, ill received, enthusiastically received, and so on. The special case of received pronunciation came about because the original meaning of received, from when it was borrowed into English, was that of Latin receptus meaning ‘accepted’.

OED: received

The OED says of its etymology that this sense of received originates in a special use from the scientific Latin of the Middle Ages:

Etymology: < receive v. + ‑ed suffix¹. With the specific use in sense 4 compare scientific Latin receptus (1826 or earlier in this sense: see quot. 1826).

They write that this restricted sense was the earliest one for the word in English.

  1. a. Generally adopted, accepted, or approved as true, authoritative, or standard. Frequently in received opinion, received wisdom.

Among the earliest provided citations are these from before 1700:

  • 1440 Promptorium Parvulorum (Harl. 221) 425
    Receyvyd, receptus, acceptus.
  • 1543 R. Record Ground of Artes ii. sig. S.viii
    Procedynge by no grounded reason, but onely by a receaued fourme.
  • 1597 T. Morley Plaine & Easie Introd. Musicke Annot. sig. *4
    I am loth to breake a receiued custome.
  • 1631 T. Taylor Regula Vitae viii. 139
    Enemies of righteousnesse, who are not onely fallen from the abnegation of the knowne and received truth, but to the oppugnation of it.
  • 1684 Scanderbeg Redivivus ii. 16
    Their then received Religion (which was as still it is, the Lutheran Perswasion).

This quickly branched into sense 1b in the early 1800s:

  1. b. spec. Generally considered as the most correct and acceptable form of a language, system of pronunciation, etc. Frequently with the. Cf. standard adj. 3.

With some early citations:

  • 1829 N. Amer. Rev. Oct. 536
    The cases..present a very well admitted ambiguity, to authorize us..to resort to principles of the English language, in defiance of the received English pronunciation.
  • 1874 A. J. Ellis On Early Eng. Pronunc. IV. iv. 1095/1
    The tip of the tongue for received English is not so advanced towards the teeth or gums, as for the continental sound.
  • 1882 A. J. Ellis in Trans. Philol. Soc. 21
    We say they are dialectal forms of the received down.
  • 1890 Dial. Notes 1 i. 26
    For the study of pronunciation the received spelling is very ill adapted.

OED: received pronunciation

It turns out that received pronunciation has its own OED entry.

The most commonly accepted or standard form of pronunciation; spec. the standard, most regionally neutral form of spoken British English, traditionally based on educated speech in southern England; abbreviated RP. Also: the form of pronunciation of a particular regional variety of English most similar to this.

Since the late 20th cent., received pronunciation has been gradually lessening in social prestige, and is no longer used by many members of the social and professional groups with which it was traditionally associated. ‘Phoneticians in Britain generally agree that RP is spoken by about 3 per cent, possibly slightly more, of the population of Britain.’ (M. K. C. MacMahon in Cambr. Historical. Eng. Lang. (1998) IV. 395.)

They provide these early citations:

  • ?1710 tr. E. Lluyd Glossography Pref. 4
    Neither would it be commendable..to continue any Orthography very disagreeable to the received Pronunciation of the Words.
  • 1774 J. Walker Gen. Idea Pronouncing Dict. Eng. Lang. 17
    Let them try if they can dwell on the radical sounds of the a, e, o, and y, in these words without departing from the common and received pronunciation.
  • 1869 A. J. Ellis On Early Eng. Pronunc. I. i. 13
    The alphabet required for writing the theoretically received pronunciation of literary English.
  • 1889 A. J. Ellis On Early Eng. Pronunc. V. v. 6
    Received pronunciation, or that of pronouncing dictionaries and educated people.
  • 1926 D. Jones Eng. Pronouncing Dict. (rev. ed.) Introd. p. viii
    I call it ‘Received Pronunciation’ (abbreviation RP), for want of a better term. I wish it to be clearly understood, however, that RP means merely ‘widely understood pronunciation’, and that I do not hold it up as a standard which everyone is recommended to adopt.

Although Ellis is often credited with having invented the term, and Jones with having popularized it, they were not the first to use it. And Jones specifically ruled out any sense of ‘standard’ here, stating clearly that he meant only ‘widely understood’.

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    Excellent. // Do we accept Jones's prescriptivist descriptivism? Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 16:01
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    wow, freaking detailed Thx!
    – ERJAN
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 16:09
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    I'm not sure that RP was ever "cool", certainly not in the UK. It was and is associated with privilege, an expensive education and a desire for acceptance by establishment figures. The very opposite of "cool".
    – BoldBen
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 5:48
  • re. "...well-received first novel. Now the word received means something quite different here, much more like what it means in received pronunciation." -- well, it's a bit different for a novel, I think, if the 'received' in RP means "generally adopted, standard" like OED says. One doesn't approve of a novel as true. "Accepted" would fit better, though.
    – ilkkachu
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 12:03
  • I always thought 'well-received' did have a certain physical sense to it, in that the novel is sent from the author/publisher to the public. But that might be because Finnish has a similar phrase and the word for "reception" there doesn't have that similar sense of approval, at least as far as I've ever heard. Then again, I don't know the etymology of that phrase in Finnish.
    – ilkkachu
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 12:07

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