Upper-class English in Natural and Audiovisual Dialogue

by Luca Valleriani (Author)
©2021 Monographs 176 Pages
Series: Lodz Studies in Language, Volume 69


This volume deals with the language of the British upper class in natural face-to-face dialogue and how this is rendered fictionally in audiovisual media. Its main aim is that of reorganising the sparse information on the topic that is found in previous scholarly studies through a qualitative methodological approach.
After focusing on the linguistic description and evolution of the upper-class sociolect, the study offers original insights on the language of the Royal Family and its representation in the TV series The Crown.
The results from this research, which combines the disciplines of sociolinguistics and dialectology applied to the audiovisual text, will hopefully open a new path in the study of language of elite groups in Britain, arguably an under-researched topic.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • List of tables and waveforms
  • Introduction
  • I. What is upper class?
  • II. Literature review
  • III. Objectives and methodology
  • IV. Description of the chapters
  • Chapter 1 Classification and linguistic features of upper-class English
  • 1.1. Upper-class speech and RP
  • 1.2. Upper-class style, social network and speech community
  • 1.3. Linguistic features
  • 1.3.1. U-RP: phonological and prosodic features
  • 1.3.2. Morpho-syntactic features
  • 1.3.3. Lexical features20
  • 1.4. Final discussion
  • Chapter 2 Past, present and future of upper-class English
  • 2.1. A history of upper-class English
  • 2.1.1. The ‘Anglo-French’ period
  • 2.1.2. The standardisation of the upper-class accent
  • 2.1.3. Victorian upper-class English
  • 2.2. Present-day upper-class English
  • 2.2.1. Age and gender variability
  • 2.2.2. Regionalised upper-class English
  • 2.2.3. The perception of upper-class English
  • 2.3. Future perspectives
  • 2.4. Final discussion
  • Chapter 3 Upper-class English in real life: The Royal Family
  • 3.1. The ‘Queen’s English’
  • 3.2. The Royal Family
  • 3.3. Linguistic features of some British upper-class celebrities
  • 3.4. Final discussion
  • Chapter 4 Upper-class English in audiovisuals: the case of The Crown
  • 4.1. The language of upper-class characters in audiovisual dialogue
  • 4.2. The Crown
  • 4.2.1. Seasons 1 and 2
  • 4.2.2. Seasons 3 and 4
  • 4.3. AVT strategies
  • 4.4. Final discussion
  • Chapter 5 The Queen’s speech: reality and fiction
  • 5.1. Analysis of the Queen’s speeches
  • 5.2. Other speeches
  • 5.3. Final discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Filmography
  • Index of Names
  • Series index


As author Evelyn Waugh wrote in a letter to his friend Nancy Mitford, “in England class distinctions have always roused higher feelings than national honour” (1959, 93), and spoken language is one of the main elements that people generally judge to make assumptions about the social background of a speaker. Upper-class English, in particular, is a recognisable language variety in Britain, spoken by the aristocracy and the descendants of the landed gentry. This variety, which is generally associated to a specific upper-class accent, has recently been used in more than one case in telecinematic dialogue to provide a realistic portrayal of the members of the high society in the UK. This study, which originated from my doctoral thesis, will deal with the description of modern upper-class English in natural face-to-face situations and how it is rendered in the fictional audiovisual dialogue.

Although members of the élite are easily recognisable for the way they speak, the language of the British upper classes is to be considered a rather under-researched topic. Scholars of English sociolinguistics have always focused more on the language of the lower classes, both in their linguistic history and features, as well as their translation into other languages. Upper classes, on the contrary, have not been explored as much and it is not difficult to find out the reasons why not many scholars investigated them. First of all, studying the language of a social class is never an easy task, simply because it is difficult to define the concept of social class itself even from the sociological point of view, due to aspects like heterogeneity and social mobility (Trudgill 2000, 26); in other words, society is fluid, social classes are aggregates of similar but not identical individuals, and they can easily move up or down the social hierarchy (ibid.). Secondly, the upper strata of any society are usually characterised by a form of insularity and exclusivity which makes it very complicated for researchers to penetrate even for study purposes (Kroch 1996, 26–27; Ranzato 2017, 27 and 2018, 204).

Before delving into the discussion regarding the objectives and research questions of this project, some space should be devoted to the introduction and explanation of the topic through some basic sociolinguistic concepts. In particular, while this study is to be considered as part of the wide research ←15 | 16→field of dialectology and language variation, it focuses on a particular kind of language variety called ‘sociolect.’ Peter Trudgill defines a sociolect as “a variety or lect which is thought of as being related to its speakers’ social background rather than geographical background” (2003, 122) and, exactly as it happens with regional dialects whose boundaries often coincide with geographical barriers, sociolinguistic variation can also be explained in terms of social barriers, such as age, gender, religion, ethnicity or social class (2000, 24). To use Eugen Coseriu’s terms (1969, 149, expanding from Flydal 1952), a sociolect is a variety of language that is placed along the diastratic axis of the architecture of language, and it is to be distinguished from both the diatopic (geolect/dialect) and the diaphasic conceptualisations (styles and registers); most of the studies in language variation are grounded on this model, which has been discussed and reconceptualised by several scholars, such as Lieb 1993, Berruto 2003, Hernández-Campoy 2016, among others.

The distinction between diastratic and diaphasic variation is particularly relevant, because ‘upper-class speech’ is sometimes identified as a style (Kroch 1996, 39), while it will be argued in this research that it is a recognisable and defined linguistic code in the United Kingdom, characterised by specific linguistic features, especially from the phonological point of view, which are shared by the members of the high society. In this book it will be illustrated that, more than in the cases of other social-class dialects, the upper classes could arguably be considered as a form of speech community in the Labovian sense (1972), “a locus in which speakers agree on the social meanings and evaluation of the variants used” (Milroy and Milroy 1997, 51), but also that the level of consciousness of the variability in language use does not imply that upper-class speech is a mere formal or ‘heightened’ style. As it happens with any other language variety, the upper-class speaker can choose to emphasise some linguistic features according to the context, but his/her every-day neutral speech is also to be considered as an upper-class speech because it contains specific lexical features and phonological phenomena, as it will be further explored in the course of the chapters.

The fact that the upper-class speech in the UK has a phonemic specificity is an important factor because it means that this sociolect has a corresponding accent, which can be identified as a conservative variant of the Received Pronunciation, defined by John C. Wells as U-RP (1992, 279). ←16 | 17→This accent is highly recognisable and it is, as argued by Ranzato, “the base of the stereotyped or at least old-fashioned rendition of the members of this class in cinematographic films and television series.” (2018, 205). Audiovisual texts are a fundamental tool to explore the sociolect of the upper British society, which gives a great opportunity to study at least the representation of this dialect.

This first section served as a presentation of the topic of this study, which intends to explore the language of the British upper-classes in all linguistic aspects through the comparison between the natural dialogue and the represented telecinematic dialogue. Therefore, this project belongs primarily to the wide research areas of sociolinguistics and dialectology, but it will also deal with issues related to other fields like the analysis of audiovisual dialogue, the history of the English language and, to some extent, audiovisual translation.

I.  What is upper class?

The exact definition of the British upper class from a sociological perspective is problematic.1 In fact, it has always been difficult to conduct scientific and statistical studies within the high society, whose ‘borders’ with the upper-middle and middle social stratifications are often arbitrarily traced by its members, as Anthony Kroch (1996) also argues referring to the upper class in Philadelphia:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (September)
Sociolinguistics Dialectology Language variation Audiovisual dialogue Conversation analysis Sociophonetics
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 176 pp., 6 fig. b/w, 8 tables.

Biographical notes

Luca Valleriani (Author)

Luca Valleriani obtained a PhD in English Studies at the Sapienza University of Rome. His main research interests are sociolinguistics and the analysis of telecinematic dialogue. He is a member of the AIA (Associazione Italiana di Anglistica) and he is co-coordinator of the Dialects in Audiovisuals project.


Title: Upper-class English in Natural and Audiovisual Dialogue
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178 pages