British ‘Received Pronunciation’ (RP) is an accent that is portrayed as a standard of British English by phonetician’s and the media. This accent is primarily used by ‘official’ BBC speakers and middle-class and upper-class people educated at private schools (Roach, P 2004: 239). Cockney is a southern accent known as traditional London accent used by the working-class. The differences in pronunciation of these accents are vastly different.
Received Pronunciation is much easier to understand than the Cockney accent. The contrast between /θ/ and /f/ and between /ð/ and /v/ in pronunciation of the Cockney accent is often lost because of a process called th-fronting. In this process distinction between labio-dental and dental fricatives collapses (Hughes, Trudgill and Watt 2012: 75-76). An example where the distinction between /θ/ and /f/ is lost would be the word ‘three’. This word would be pronounced as /θriː/ in RP and as /friː/ in Cockney. The words ‘three’ and ‘free’ sound identical in the Cockney accent which may cause confusion. The word ‘bathe’ is an example where /ð/ becomes /v/. In RP this word is pronounced as /beɪð/ and in Cockney it’s /beɪv/. Another aspect of the Cockney accent is the absence of the /h/ sound at the beginning of most words. For example, the word ‘have’ would be pronounced as /hæv/ in RP and as /æv/ in Cockney.
Another feature that is different in both accents is the /l/ sound that becomes the vowel /ʊ/ in Cockney accent. In Cockney, if /l/ comes after a vowel, before a consonant in the same syllable or when it’s a syllable in itself, it becomes a vowel (Hughes, Trudgill and Watt 2012: 76). An example where /l/ comes after a vowel, is the word ‘well’. In RP this word is pronounced as /wɛl/ and in Cockney accent it’s /wɛʊ/. Another example of this feature, where /l/ changes to /ʊ/ in the same syllable with another consonant, is the word ‘milk’. This word is /mɪʊk/ in the Cockney accent and /mɪlk/ in Received Pronunciation. If there is /ɔː/ is the vowel before /l/, there may be a complete loss of this consonant (Hughes, Trudgill and Watt 2012: 77). The name ‘Paul’ would become /poːz/ in Cockney and in RP it’s /pɔːl/.
Perhaps the most noticeable element in Cockney is the glottal stop /ʔ/ that is very common in this accent. According to Hughes, Trudgill and Watt (2012: 43), it’s a ‘form of plosive in which the closure is made by bringing the vocal folds together, as when holding one’s breath.‘ For instance the sentence ‘Get out of it.’ Is pronounced as /gɛt aʊt ɒv ɪt/ in RP and as /geʔ ɑːʔ əv ɪʔ/ in Cockney accent. This noticeable feature makes both accents vastly different.
Roach, P. (2004) British English: Received Pronunciation. Journal of the International Phonetic Association [online] 34(2), 239-245. available from <www.jstor.org/stable/44526355> [Accessed 25 Apr. 2020]
Hughes, A., Trudgill, P., Watt, D. (2012) English Accents and Dialects [online] 5th edn. London: Routledge. available from <https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203784440> [Accessed 25 Apr. 2020]