Rhotacism (speech impediment)

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In medical contexts, rhotacism (/ˈrtəsɪzəm/) is the inability to pronounce or difficulty in pronouncing the sound r. Speech pathologists call the condition de-rhotacization, because the sounds lose their rhotic quality rather than becoming rhotic.

Language development[edit]

Rhotic sounds are usually the last ones a child masters. Some people never learn to produce them; they substitute other sounds, such as the velar approximant, the uvular approximant (often called the French R), and the uvular trill.

In English, the most common occurrence of this type is a pronunciation perceived as closer to [w] (typically, though, actually the labiodental approximant [ʋ]), which is known as r-labialisation. This form of rhotacism has often been used in English-language media for comedic effect, since it evokes among English speakers a childlike way of pronouncing the letter R, an example being Elmer Fudd's pronunciation of "rabbit" [ˈɹ̠ʷæbɪ̈t] as "wabbit" [ˈwæbɪ̈t] in Looney Tunes cartoons. Often, people with the condition are mistakenly referred to as a person with a lisp, which is a completely different condition.

Across languages[edit]

Rhotacism is more common among speakers of languages that have a trilled R,[citation needed] such as Arabic, Bulgarian, Finnish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish (except in the provinces of Skåne, Halland, Blekinge, Öland and southern Småland).

People with rhotacism[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Elmer Fudd in Looney Tunes
  • Barry Kripke in The Big Bang Theory is depicted as having this speech impediment. However, he has problems with both "R" and "L" sounds. His Siri on his iPhone answers him back as "Bawwy". He is last seen in Season 11 episode "The Bow Tie Asymmetry", at the end of the wedding, singing the song "At Last" as "At Wast".
  • In the 1979 film Monty Python's Life of Brian, Pilate is also depicted as having this speech impediment. Because of this, people around him often cannot understand his words, and he is mocked by the townspeople of Jerusalem when he talks to them in the square.
  • Tony Angelino, a one-time character from Only Fools and Horses, suffered from Rhotacism, becoming apparent during his stage performance of the Roy Orbison song "Crying".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Radio's New Wave: Global Sound in the Digital Era. Routledge. 2013. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-136-44630-6.
  2. ^ Finnerty, Deirdre (3 May 2012). "Roy Hodgson: Is it wrong to mock the way he speaks?". BBC News. Retrieved 14 September 2018.