Retroflex trill

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Retroflex trill
IPA number 105 101 122
Entity (decimal) ɽ​͡​r
Unicode (hex) U+027D U+0361 U+0072

The retroflex trill is a sound that has been reported from the Dravidian language Toda, and confirmed with laboratory measurements. Peter Ladefoged transcribes it with the IPA symbol normally associated with the retroflex flap, ɽ. Although the tongue starts out in a sub-apical retroflex position, trilling involves the tip of the tongue and causes it to move forward to the alveolar ridge; this means that the retroflex trill gives a preceding vowel retroflex coloration the way other retroflex consonants do, but the vibration itself is not much different from an alveolar trill. Thus, the narrower transcription ɽ͡r is also appropriate.

Wintu and Lardil are other languages with a reported (apico-)retroflex trill where the tongue apex "approaches" the hard palate (this is not sub-apical as in Toda). The trill has a retroflex flap allophone occurring in intervocalic position.

Variations of the retroflex trill in IPA symbols.

Several languages have been reported to have trilled retroflex affricates such as [ɳɖ͡ɽ̝] and [ʈ͡ɽ̝̊], including Mapudungun, Malagasy, and Fijian. However, the exact articulation is seldom clear from the descriptions. In Fijian, for example, further investigation revealed that the sound (written dr) is seldom trilled, usually realized as a postalveolar stop [n̠d̠] instead. In Mapudungun, the sound (written tr) is strongly retroflex, causing /l/ and /r/ following the subsequent vowel to become retroflex as well. In the southern dialect it varies between /ʈɽ/ and /ʈʂ/, but it is not clear whether the letter ɽ represents a trill or a non-sibilant fricative.


Features of the "retroflex trill":

  • Its manner of articulation is trill, which means it is produced by directing air over the articulator so that it vibrates.
  • Its place of articulation is retroflex, which prototypically means it is articulated subapical (with the tip of the tongue curled up), but more generally, it means that it is postalveolar without being palatalized. That is, besides the prototypical sub-apical articulation, the tongue contact can be apical (pointed) or laminal (flat).
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation. However, in some languages (like Swiss German) it can just mean that this consonant is pronounced shorter and weaker than its voiceless counterpart, while its voicedness or lack thereof is not relevant. In such cases it's more accurate to call such sounds lenis or lax.
  • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.
  • It is a central consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream along the center of the tongue, rather than to the sides.
  • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm, as in most sounds.


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Dutch[1] North Brabant[2] riem [ɽ͡rim] 'belt' A rare variant of /r/;[3] occurs almost exclusively word-initially.[4] Realization of /r/ varies considerably among dialects. See Dutch phonology
North Holland[2]
Lardil [example needed] Apical
Toda[5] [kaɽ͡r] 'pen for calves' Subapical. Toda contrasts plain and palatalized fronted alveolar, alveolar and retroflex trills.[5]
Wintu[6] [example needed] Apical