Rhotic and non-rhotic accents

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In linguistic terms, non-rhotic accents are accents that exclude the language's "r" sound[nb 1] from the syllable coda when occurring before a consonant or prosodic break. When the "r" sound occurs in the syllable coda it is sometimes referred to as "post-vocalic r". Meanwhile, rhotic accents generally pronounce the "r" sound in all contexts.

Rhoticity in English[edit]

Main article: 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.[1] For example, a rhotic speaker says words like hard and butter broadly as /ˈhɑrd/, hahrd and /ˈbʌtər/, BUH-tər; a non-rhotic speaker typically "drops" or "deletes" the r sound, saying (/ˈhɑːd/, hahd and /ˈbʌtə/, 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.[1] Historical /r/ is preserved in most dialects of Scotland, Ireland, the United States and Canada.[1]

Other languages[edit]

Other Germanic languages[edit]

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 [dar] plus the 3rd plural dative pronoun "-yos" da-yos [daˈʝos̻] (give to them) or the accusative form "los" dalos [daˈlos̻] (give them). This will happen even in southern dialects where the infinitive form will be "dare" [daˈre], 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 [daː los̻ ðos̻] (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".

Chinese languages[edit]

In Mandarin, many words are pronounced with the coda [ɻ], originally a diminutive ending. The sound [ɻ] did not appear in Mandarin until the 17th century, when a vowel epenthesis (i.e. /ɑ/) was added to [ɽɿ] (approximate pronunciation in early Mandarin in the 14th century).[clarification needed] 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 the late 13th century, in other areas it tends to be omitted. But in words with an inherent coda, such as the number two (Chinese: ; pinyin: èr), [ɑ̂ɻ], the [ɻ] is pronounced.

Indonesian and Malaysian Malay[edit]

In Indonesian, which is a form of Malay, the final /r/ is pronounced, while it is not in the various forms of Malay spoken on the Malay Peninsula.


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, Turkish displays more or less the same feature, as syllable-final /r/ is dropped. For example, it is very common to hear phrases like "gidiyo" instead of "gidiyor", in spoken Turkish. In some parts of Turkey, e.g. Kastamonu, the syllable-final /r/ is almost never pronounced, e.g. "gidiya" instead of "gidiyor" (meaning "she/he is going"), "gide" instead of "gider" (meaning "she/he goes"). In "gide", the preceding vowel e is lengthened and pronounced somewhat between an e and a.


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[edit]

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:
    • "char" for "cha" from the Mandarin Chinese pronunciation of 茶 (= "tea" (the drink))
    • "nark" (= "informer") from Romany "nāk" (= "nose").
  • In Rudyard Kipling's books:
    • "dorg" instead of "dawg" for a drawled pronunciation of "dog".
    • Hindu god name Kama misspelled as "Karma" (which refers to a concept in several Asian religions, not a god).
    • Hindustani कागज़ "kāgaz" (= "paper") spelled as "kargaz".
  • "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".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In English, this most commonly refers to some variation of the About this sound alveolar approximant , often transcribed broadly as /r/, or less traditionally but more precisely as /ɹ/.


  1. ^ a b c Lass 1999, p. 114.


External links[edit]