[NOTE: A WIKIPEDIA EDITOR HAS NOW CORRECTED THE MAIN ERRORS NOTED BELOW, SO YOU WON'T NOW FIND THEM IF YOU LOOK AT THE ARTICLE]
I sometimes wonder what people who use the term mean when they talk about "Conservative RP". The word 'conservative' normally refers to an intention to preserve something from earlier times; in this sense, people who speak with an accent typical of an earlier generation rather than one of their own generation would be said to have a conservative accent. The late Brian Sewell was perhaps such a speaker. It’s possible to compare the accent of Jacob Rees-Mogg with that of near-contemporaries David Cameron and George Osborne and come to the conclusion that Rees-Mogg’s RP is more conservative than that of the other two. But when, for example, pronunciations recommended by Daniel Jones in his earlier works are referred to as conservative, all the word means is that he was describing the way RP was pronounced at the time. He himself was probably speaking with an accent that was no more conservative than that of his contemporaries from a similar background.
My reason for wondering about this is my having noticed recently that Wikipedia, as well as having a large article on Received Pronunciation, also has one on Conservative Received Pronunciation. The whole article appears to have been written recently by a single author, and contains no references except a link to the British Library’s page about RP, from which it has been inexpertly cobbled. Although many of the facts it presents as typical of old-fashioned RP are well-known it contains a load of elementary errors about phonemes, allophones and accents.
By way of introduction to the topic of Conservative Received Pronunciation (henceforth CRP) we are told that “Formerly the prestige model of pronunciation, it has declined in favour of other, less-conservative dialects, primarily Contemporary Received Pronunciation”. Speakers of CRP given as examples are members of the Royal Family, Sir Winston Churchill, Dame Vera Lynn and commentators of Pathé News and, prior to the 1960s, the BBC” (apparently the BBC stopped speaking with CRP at the end of the 1950’s). There is no mention of the fact that younger members of the Royal Family speak with an accent that is far from CRP; Dame Vera Lynn is undoubtedly old, but has never struck me as having a conservative RP accent (or, indeed, any sort of RP accent). It seems pretty clear from this list that this article is not really about conservative RP but the RP of earlier generations (now mostly dead). We are only given two examples of speakers of Contemporary RP, and these are David Cameron and Kate Maltby.
The characteristics of CRP are listed as “Phonological features”, but turn out to be almost entirely allophonic. The final vowel of ‘happy’ is said to be /ɪ/ in CRP, but “in Contemporary RP it is /i/, in common with most other accents (though not the accents of much of Northern England, which have /ɛ/ or /a/)”. Square brackets needed there, and I can’t think which Northern English accent has a final [a] in ‘happy’. The BED vowel is said to be /e/ in CRP and /ɛ/ in Contemporary RP. Rather unnecessarily, we are told that “The more open phoneme of Contemporary RP is demonstrated in the different realisation of Leicester and bed by speakers of the respective standards.” Next, the change of TRAP from /æ/ (Conservative) to /a/ (Contemporary) is wrongly described as a phonological change. More allophonic detail comes up in “The quality of the vowel in bird, nurse and curtain is realised as /ɐː/ by the most conservative speakers and /ɜː/ by the remaining speakers of Conservative RP. In Contemporary RP, /ɜː/ is the most common, with /əː/ also heard”.
It would take too long to list all the imperfections of this piece – read it for yourself and see what you think. Note ‘Boar’ being given as an example of CRP /ʊə/, and the strangely-worded observation that “Since the beginning of the 20th century … the /ʍ/ phoneme ceased to be a feature of Conservative RP, except by the most precise speakers who have learnt to differentiate” (my italics).
At the end we get two final bullet points, one of which tells us that Dame Vera has been heard to sing a /t/ in ‘Christmas’, while the other rambles off into some stuff about pronunciation of days of the week and spelling pronunciation.
I have a feeling that whoever penned this regrettable article is probably even now working on a companion piece on Contemporary RP. I do hope I’m wrong.