R-SOUNDS

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

R-SOUNDS. No other CONSONANT of English is as variable as that represented by the letter R. Although /r/ is one phoneme in English, there are six ways in which it is pronounced: (1) A post-alveolar approximant. This is made by raising the tip of the tongue behind, but without touching, the ALVEOLAR ridge, the lips usually rounded, the lower lip brought close to the upper teeth. It is dominant in EngE and common in AusE and NZE. If the tongue movement is omitted, the result is a sound like /w/, suggested by (often facetious) spellings using w instead of r: wound and wound the wugged wocks the wagged wascal wan. This usage has been noted in EngE variously: as an aristocratic shibboleth, an affectation, and a speech defect. (2) A retroflex. If the tip of the tongue is raised further and curled back towards the palate, the result is a RETROFLEX r. It is dominant in the US. Canada, Ireland, and in the south-west of England, and gaining ground in Scotland. (3) An alveolar flap. If the tongue strikes the alveolar ridge as the tip is lowered, the result is a flapped r. This usage is characteristic of some varieties of IndE. (4) An alveolar tap. If the tongue strikes the ridge as the tip is raised, the result is a tapped r. This usage is dominant in ScoE, common among older speakers of RP in England, and typical of speakers of English in South Africa of Afrikaans background. When used by RP speakers in phrases like ‘very American’, Americans report hearing Veddy Ameddican. (5) An alveolar trill or roll. If the tongue is held in such a position that the air-stream causes it to vibrate against the alveolar ridge, the result is a trill or roll, a usage marked in Spanish by a double r (contrasting pero, ‘but’, with perro, ‘dog’). It is widely regarded as a typically Scottish ‘rolled r’, and is so promoted in stage and jocular stereotypes. (6) A uvular /r/. If the tongue is pulled backwards towards the uvula, three kinds of r can be made: a uvular approximant, a uvulur fricative, and a uvular trill (as in Parisian-French). Small numbers of speakers with a uvular r can be found in various parts of northern Britain, such as north-east England (the Durham or Northumberland BURR) and south-east Scotland (the Berwickshire burr). See GEORDIE, INTRUSIVE R, LINKING R, LIQUID, L-SOUNDS, R, RHOTIC AND NON-RHOTIC.