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Pronunciation of English /r/

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The pronunciation of the phoneme /r/ in the English language has many variations in different dialects.



Depending on dialect, /r/ has at least the following allophones in varieties of English around the world:[1]

In most British dialects /r/ is labialized [ɹ̠ʷ] in many positions, as in reed [ɹʷiːd] and tree [tɹ̥ʷiː]; in the latter case, the /t/ may be slightly labialized as well.[5]

In many dialects, /r/ in the cluster /dr/, as in dream, is realized as a postalveolar fricative [ɹ̠˔] or less commonly alveolar [ɹ̝]. In /tr/, as in tree, it is a voiceless postalveolar fricative [ɹ̠̊˔] or less commonly alveolar [ɹ̝̊].[6] In England, while the approximant has become the most common realization, /r/ may still be pronounced as a voiceless tap [ɾ̥] after /θ/ (as in thread).[7] Tap realization of /r/ after /θ/ is also reported in some parts of the United States, particularly Utah.[8]

There are two primary articulations of the approximant /r/: apical (with the tip of the tongue approaching the alveolar ridge or even curled back slightly) and domal (with a centralized bunching of the tongue known as molar r or sometimes bunched r or braced r). Peter Ladefoged wrote: "Many BBC English speakers have the tip of the tongue raised towards the roof of the mouth in the general location of the alveolar ridge, but many American English speakers simply bunch the body of the tongue up so that it is hard to say where the articulation is".[9] The extension to the IPA recommends the use of the IPA diacritics for "apical" and "centralized", as in ⟨ɹ̺, ɹ̈⟩, to distinguish apical and domal articulations in transcription. However, this distinction has little or no perceptual consequence, and may vary idiosyncratically between individuals.[10]

Rhoticity and non-rhoticity


English accents around the world are frequently characterized as either rhotic or non-rhotic. Most accents in England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are non-rhotic accents, where the historical English phoneme /r/ is not pronounced unless followed by a vowel.

On the other hand, the historical /r/ is pronounced in all contexts in rhotic accents, which are spoken in most of Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Canada, and in some English accents (like in the West Country and some parts of Lancashire and the far north). Thus, a rhotic accent pronounces marker as /ˈmɑrkər/, and a non-rhotic accent pronounces the same word as /ˈmɑːkə/. In rhotic accents, when /r/ is not followed by a vowel phoneme, it generally surfaces as r-coloring of the preceding vowel or its coda: nurse [nɝs], butter [ˈbʌtɚ].



R-labialization, which should not be confused with the rounding of initial /r/ described above, is a process occurring in certain dialects of English, particularly some varieties of Cockney, in which the /r/ phoneme is realized as a labiodental approximant [ʋ], in contrast to an alveolar approximant [ɹ].

The use of labiodental /r/ is commonly stigmatized by prescriptivists. However, its use is growing in many accents of British English.[11] Most speakers who do so are from the South-East of England, particularly London.

That has also been reported to be an extremely rare realization of /r/ in New Zealand English[12] and in the speech of younger speakers of Singapore English.[13]

The /r/ realization may not always be labiodental since bilabial realizations have also been reported.[citation needed]

R-labialization leads to pronunciations such as these:

  • red – [ʋɛd]
  • ring – [ʋɪŋ]
  • rabbit – [ˈʋæbɪt]
  • Merry Christmas – [mɛʋi ˈkʋɪsməs]

However, the replacement of /r/ by some kind of labial approximant may also occur caused by a type of speech impediment called rhotacism or derhotacization.

See also



  1. ^ Wells, John C. (1982). Accents of English. Volume 1: An Introduction, Volume 2: The British Isles, Volume 3: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Hickey, Raymond (2007). Irish English: History and present-day forms. Cambridge University Press. pp. 14-15, 320.
  3. ^ a b Spitzbardt, Harry (1976). English in India. p. 31. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  4. ^ Investigating Language Attitudes: Social Meanings of Dialect, Ethnicity and Performance. Peter Garrett, Nikolas Coupland, Angie Williams. 15 July 2003. p. 73. ISBN 9781783162086.
  5. ^ Ladefoged, Peter (2001). A Course in Phonetics (4th ed.). Harcourt College Publishers. p. 55.
  6. ^ Gimson, Alfred Charles (2014). Cruttenden, Alan (ed.). Gimson's Pronunciation of English (8th ed.). Routledge. pp. 177, 186–8. ISBN 9781444183092.
  7. ^ Ogden, Richard (2009). An Introduction to English Phonetics. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 90–2. ISBN 9780748625413.
  8. ^ Stanley, Joseph A. (2019). "(thr)-Flapping in American English: Social factors and articulatory motivations" (PDF). Proceedings of the 5th Annual Linguistics Conference at UGA. Athens, Georgia: The Linguistics Society at the University of Georgia. pp. 49–63. hdl:10724/38831.
  9. ^ Ladefoged, Peter (2001). Vowels and Consonants. Blackwell. p. 103.
  10. ^ Laver, John (1994). Principles of Phonetics. Cambridge. p. 300.
  11. ^ Foulkes, Paul, and Gerard J. Docherty. (eds.) (1999). Urban Voices. Arnold
  12. ^ Bauer, Laurie; Warren, Paul; Bardsley, Dianne; Kennedy, Marianna; Major, George (2007), "New Zealand English", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 37 (1): 100, doi:10.1017/S0025100306002830
  13. ^ Kwek, G. S. C.; Low, E.-L. (2020). "Emergent features of young Singaporean speech: an investigatory study of the labiodental /r/ in Singapore English". Asian Englishes. 23 (2): 116–136. doi:10.1080/13488678.2020.1759249.