According to an often cited statistic there are only 3% of RP speakers in Britain. This minority accent is rather unusual and unique from a sociolinguistic point of view. One of the most interesting things about RP is that it is a totally non-regional accent. This peculiarity must be due to a certain set of sociolinguistic preconditions, and it has often been ascribed to the origin of the accent in British residential schools for the children of the upper-classes, the so-called Public Schools.
The sociolinguistic situation of RP has had a number of changes in the last few decades. Much of this appears to stem from a change in attitudes towards RP and other accents of British English on the part of the British population as a whole. A famous social psychologist Howard Giles carried out a whole series of research programmes in the 1970s. He came to a conclusion that RP was perceived as being an accent associated with speakers who were competent, reliable, educated, and confident. It was also perceived as being the most aesthetically pleasing of all British English accents. However, RP speakers scored low on traits like friendliness, companionability and sincerity, and messages couched in RP also proved to be less persuasive than the same messages in local accents.
It is a matter of common observation that the RP accent is no longer the necessary passport to employment of certain sorts that it once was. Non-RP accents are much more common on the BBC, for example, than they were forty years ago.
Unfortunately, discrimination on the grounds of accent still exists in British society. But this discrimination is no longer against all regional accents. And it is also no longer permitted in British society to be seen to discriminate against someone on the basis of their accent – it has to masquerade as something else. This hypocrisy can be explained by an increase in democratic ideals. The RP accent can be even more of a disadvantage in certain social situations. In many sections of British society, some of the strongest sanctions are exercised against ‘posh’ and ‘snobbish’ people. So, many fewer people than before are now speakers of RP. Even Conservative Party politicians no longer have to strive for RP accents, as a recent Conservative Prime Minister once did.