Don’t sigh loudly if I say both yes and no. Is a Model T Ford and a Ferrari the same thing? Well, yes and no. You can see the problem. In a nutshell, elocution is the old fashioned term for changing accent. There are two reasons it has fallen out of favour:
- Modern training techniques are vastly different to those used in the ‘old days’. Much like car engines are vastly different now. As an example, the ClearSpeak Method is based on professional speech pathology principles, with techniques designed to give students the best chance of success. The ‘old’ approach relied almost entirely on asking a student to repeat after a model like a parrot. This alone will never result in fluency with a new accent. They had no idea of concepts such as holding postures to create the right shaped ‘cave’ in your mouth (see Masterclass video for /a/ at clearspeak.com.au).
- The second reason is a change in cultural attitudes. In ‘the old days’, Received Pronunciation was spoken by the social elite in Britain. The origin of this term is that members of the upper class would be ‘received by the queen’, no doubt at tea parties, balls and other fun activities. Elocution training was sought by those aspiring to enter this level of society. The film My Fair Lady is a classic example of the message: You won’t be accepted into high society unless you speak like us.
To what extent is this attitude still true in the UK today? I won’t venture an opinion as I may have to dodge some rotten eggs! Let’s just say that English speaking societies are much, much more inclusive these days but that clearly spoken English will always be an asset.
Wrapping up, I suggest you put the old ‘elocution’ term firmly to rest. ‘Accent change’ is the new name of the game and you’ll be quite proper whipping this term out at your next dinner party.