Rhotic and non-rhotic accents
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In linguistic terms, non-rhotic accents are dialectal pronunciations of a language that are said to exclude the language's "r" sound[nb 1] from the syllable coda when occurring before a consonant or prosodic break. This is sometimes (if misleadingly) referred to as "post-vocalic R". Meanwhile, rhotic accents generally pronounce the "r" sound in all contexts.
Rhoticity in English
English pronunciation can be divided into two main accent groups: a rhotic speaker pronounces a rhotic consonant in all instances, while a non-rhotic speaker only pronounces /r/ before vowels. For example, a rhotic speaker says words like hard and butter broadly as //, hahrd and //, BUH-tər; a non-rhotic speaker typically "drops" or "deletes" the r sound, saying (//, hahd and //, BUH-tə). The loss of historical /r/ has produced non-rhoticity in all the dialects of modern England except the South West, the southern West Midlands, and parts of West Lancashire, as well as in the dialects of Southern Hemisphere English and some parts of the southern and eastern coastal United States. Historical /r/ is preserved in the dialects of Scotland, Ireland, and most of the United States and Canada.
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Other Germanic languages
The rhotic consonant is dropped or vocalized under similar conditions in other Germanic languages, notably German, Danish and Dutch from the eastern Netherlands (because of Low German influence) and southern Sweden (possibly because of its Danish history). In most varieties of German, /r/ in the syllable coda is frequently realized as a vowel or a semivowel, [ɐ] or [ɐ̯]. In the traditional standard pronunciation, this happens only in the unstressed ending -er and after long vowels: for example besser [ˈbɛsɐ], sehr [zeːɐ̯]. In common speech, the vocalization is usual after short vowels as well, and additional contractions may occur: for example Dorn [dɔɐ̯n] ~ [dɔːn], hart [haɐ̯t] ~ [haːt]. Similarly, Danish /r/ after a vowel is, unless followed by a stressed vowel, either pronounced [ɐ̯] (mor "mother" [moɐ̯], næring "nourishment" [ˈnɛɐ̯eŋ]) or merged with the preceding vowel while usually influencing its vowel quality (/a(ː)r/ and /ɔːr/ or /ɔr/ are realised as long vowels [aː] and [ɒː], and /ər/, /rə/ and /rər/ are all pronounced [ɐ]) (løber "runner" [ˈløːb̥ɐ], Søren Kierkegaard (personal name) [ˌsœːɐn ˈkʰiɐ̯ɡ̊əˌɡ̊ɒːˀ]).
In Asturian, word final /r/ is always lost in infinitives if they are followed by an enclitic pronoun, and this is reflected in the writing; e.g. The infinitive form dar [ðar] plus the 3rd plural dative pronoun "-yos" da-yos [ðaˈʝos̻] (give to them) or the accusative form "los" dalos [ðaˈlos̻] (give them). This will happen even in southern dialects where the infinitive form will be "dare" [ðaˈre], and both the /r/ and the vowel will drop (da-yos, not *dáre-yos). However, most of the speakers also drop the rhotics in the infinitive before a lateral consonant of a different word, and this doesn't show in the writing. e.g. dar los dos [ðaː los̻ dos̻] (give the two [things]). This doesn't occur in the middle of words. e.g. the name Carlos [karˈlos̻].
In some Catalan dialects, word final /r/ is lost in coda position not only in suffixes on nouns and adjectives denoting the masculine singular (written as -r) but also in the "-ar, -er, -ir" suffixes of infinitives; e.g. forner [furˈne] "(male) baker", fer [ˈfe] "to do", lluir [ʎuˈi] "to shine, to look good". However, rhotics are "recovered" when followed by the feminine suffix -a [ə], and when infinitives have single or multiple enclitic pronouns (notice the two rhotics are neutralized in the coda, with a tap [ɾ] occurring between vowels, and a trill [r] elsewhere); e.g. fornera [furˈneɾə] "(female) baker", fer-lo [ˈferɫu] "to do it (masc.)", fer-ho [ˈfeɾu] "to do it/that/so", lluir-se [ʎuˈir.sə] "to excel, to show off".
In Mandarin, many words are pronounced with the coda [ɻ], originally a diminutive ending. The sound [ɻ] did not appear in Mandarin until 17th century, when a vowel epenthesis (i.e. /ɑ/) was added to [ɽɿ] (approximate pronunciation in early Mandarin in the 14th century). But this happens only in some areas, mainly in the Northern region, notably including Beijing dialect; as vast majority of Chinese languages (e.g. Cantonese, Min, Wu) had been separated from early Mandarin by late 13th century, in other areas it tends to be omitted. But in words with an inherent coda, such as the number two (Chinese: 二; pinyin: èr), [ɑ̂ɻ], the [ɻ] is pronounced.
Indonesian and Malaysian Malay
Historical final /r/ has been lost from all Khmer dialects but Northern.
In some dialects of Brazilian Portuguese, /r/ is unpronounced or aspirated. This occurs most frequently with verbs in the infinitive, which is always indicated by a word-final /r/. In some states, however, it happens mostly with any /r/ when preceding a consonant.
Among the Spanish dialects, Andalusian Spanish, Caribbean Spanish (descended from and still closely related to Andalusian and Canarian Spanish), Castúo (Spanish dialect of Extremadura) Northern Colombian Spanish (in cities like Cartagena, Monteria, San Andres Islands y Santa Marta but not Barranquilla which is mostly rhotic) and the Argentine dialect spoken in the Tucumán province have an unpronounced word-final /r/, especially in infinitives which mirrors the situation in some dialects of Brazilian Portuguese. However, in the Caribbean Antillean forms, word-final /r/ in infinitives and non-infinitives is often in free variation with word-final /l/ and may relax to the point of being articulated as /i/.
Among the Turkic languages, Uyghur displays more or less the same feature, as syllable-final /r/ is dropped, while the preceding vowel is lengthened: for example Uyghurlar [ʔʊɪˈʁʊːlaː] ‘Uyghurs’. The /r/ may, however, sometimes be pronounced in unusually "careful" or "pedantic" speech; in such cases, it is often mistakenly inserted after long vowels even when there is no phonemic /r/ there.
Similarly in Yaqui, an indigenous language of northern Mexico, intervocalic or syllable-final /r/ is often dropped with lengthening of the previous vowel: pariseo becomes [paːˈseo], sewaro becomes [sewajo].
Effect on spelling
Spellings based on non-rhotic pronunciation of dialectal or foreign words can result in mispronunciations if read by rhotic speakers. Examples include:
- "Er", to indicate a filled pause, as a British spelling of what US-Americans would render "uh".
- The Korean family name 박 (Bak/Pak) usually written "Park" in English.
- The game Parcheesi.
- British English slang words:
- In Rudyard Kipling's books:
- "Burma" and "Myanmar" for Burmese [bəmà] and [mjàmmà].
- Transliteration of Cantonese words and names, such as char siu (叉燒, Jyutping: caa1 siu1) and Wong Kar-wai (王家衛, Jyutping: Wong4 Gaa1wai6)
- The spelling of "schoolmarm" for "school ma'am".
- Lass 1999, p. 114.
- Harris, John. 2006. "Wide-domain r-effects in English" (pdf). Accessed March 24, 2007.
- Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg. 2006. The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.
- Lass, Roger (1999). "Phonology and Morphology". In Lass, Roger. The Cambridge History of the English Language, Volume III: 1476–1776. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 56–186.
- Pollock, K., et al. 1998. "Phonological Features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE)". Accessed March 24, 2007.
- Wells, J. C. Accents of English. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
- Chapter 7 of the Atlas of North American English by William Labov et al., dealing with rhotic and non-rhotic accents in the U.S. (PDF file)
- Rhotic vs non-rhotic, intrusive "r" from the alt.usage.english newsgroup's FAQ
- Rhotic or non-rhotic English?, Pétur Knútsson, University of Iceland
- 'Hover & Hear' accents of English from around the world, both rhotic and non-rhotic.