-er-sound in English

KnightMove

Senior Member
German/Austria
How do you call the vowel represented by English -er at the end of a word, as in "mister"? Please can you give me the link in Wikipedia?
 
  • Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Whereas the sound represented by the er in water is a schwa in non-rhotic accents like Received Pronunciation, in rhotic dialects like most of North American English, this sound is not a schwa sound; rather, the "er" designates an r-colored schwa, which is pronounced like schwa, except the tongue is pulled back in the mouth and "bunched up".
    Wikipedia
     

    KnightMove

    Senior Member
    German/Austria
    Please explain what rhotic English is.

    Mr Bones: I believe that it's not the schwa, but closer to an /a/-sound.
     

    KnightMove

    Senior Member
    German/Austria
    Thanks for the info.

    I always thought the English -er to be pronounced in exactly the same way as the German. This is the way I used it, also the way I deem to hear it in English songs. But as it seems, I was wrong...
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Could you give us an example?
    The -er is pronounced WITH the r if the next word begins with a vowel sound.

    So Mister Smith has a schwa for the -er.

    Mister Evans has schwa-r for the -er (the pronunciation used all the time by rhotic-speakers).
     

    KnightMove

    Senior Member
    German/Austria
    I still doubt that this is a schwa. In English songs, "Mister" has always seemed to me as if pronounced exactly as in German.

    Look at the German words "Kelle" (dipper) and "Keller" (cellar). They are pronounced almost the same, with the exception that Kelle has a schwa in the end, and Keller a vowel closer to /a/.
     

    KnightMove

    Senior Member
    German/Austria
    No, it's just a vowel, and it is similar to /a/. I was given the Nickname "Data", but telling this to people, they often assume this to be written with -er because the sound is quite similar.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I can only fall back on the OED pronunciation guide, which clearly shows schwa or schwa-r for the -er of mister. It sounds right to me.

    Rhotic speakers often confuse -er and -a endings on words they hear for the first time from non-rhotic speakers.
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    KnightMove said:
    I still doubt that this is a schwa. In English songs, "Mister" has always seemed to me as if pronounced exactly as in German.
    Since when is the ENglish "inner" pronounced exactly as the German one? That would be something totally new for me. The German -er is much more open than the English one. In German, it's represented by an upside down "a". It is a sound that it much quicker than the English "a" in "are".

    When pronouncing the English word "inner", I never happen to come close to an "a" sound, but more to something between an "i" and an "e" plus an aspirated "r". You could maybe compare it the German pronunciation of "Myrrhe", in which you should use the standard English "r". :)
     

    moodywop

    Banned
    Italian - Italy
    I know what Knightmove is referring to. When I was learning English I too noticed that in RP (or at least in the extremely plum-in-the-mouth variety of RP we would hear in the tapes that came with our coursebooks) final schwa is more open than non-final schwa. I later studied this feature in my English phonetics class. A phoneme can be realized phonetically in different ways (allophones) according to its position: the same phoneme /l/ sounds quite different in let and tell ("dark" "l").

    The quality of final schwa tends to be of an open kind. In certain types of RP this variety reaches an articulatory area similar to "u" in "cut", but may have the same degree of opening as /a:/, i.e. the two vowels of father may be of similar quality. The opening of final schwa to this extent is, however, commonly felt to be an exaggeration characteristic of affected speech
    (Gimson, An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English)
     

    Mr Bones

    Senior Member
    España - Español
    Hello, Dalec. I'm very interested in your contribution to this discussion because I think that phonetics can be a great deal of help for us students. But I couldn't read the phonemic symbols you've wrote and I don't know wether it is exclusively my problem or everybody's. When I wrote something with phonemic symbols in this forum I used this IPA Typewriter:

    http://elc.polyu.edu.hk/CiLL/ipatypewriter.htm

    I checked that the symbols come out very well and I found it very useful. Anyway, could anyone tell me if I lack something to see these symbols properly?

    Thank you, Mr Bones.
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Mr Bones said:
    Hello, Dalec. I'm very interested in your contribution to this discussion because I think that phonetics can be a great deal of help for us students. But I couldn't read the phonemic symbols you've wrote and I don't know wether it is exclusively my problem or everybody's. When I wrote something with phonemic symbols in this forum I used this IPA Typewriter:

    http://elc.polyu.edu.hk/CiLL/ipatypewriter.htm

    I checked that the symbols come out very well and I found it very useful. Anyway, could anyone tell me if I lack something to see these symbols properly?

    Thank you, Mr Bones.
    Don't make things so complicated. :)

    You just have to change the font from "Verdana" (the one that is used by default in this forum) to "Lucida Sans Unicode". By the way, DaleC, the correct IPA symbol for the English "sh"/German "sch" is ʃ, not š. ;)
     

    Mr Bones

    Senior Member
    España - Español
    Don't make things so complicated. :)

    You just have to change the font from "Verdana" (the one that is used by default in this forum) to "Lucida Sans Unicode".
    And how can I do that with DaleC's message? Please...
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Copy the text into a new post or into a PM.
    Change the font using the drop-down font list at the top of the post or PM editor. And here, below, is DaleC's post complete with the symbols.
    Thanks to whodunit's advice:)


    Whether in "r" dialects" or "r-less" dialects of English, most vowels, including the one you have asked about, do not have names. [Below, I have deliberately magnified unfamiliar symbols because they may be hard to make out.]

    In researching these sounds, bear in mind the following: the references to German are strictly to standard German; and some English dialects have lost the 'r' sound at the end of syllables (they are called "r-less" or "nonrhotic"). Both English and German have massive dialect variation in their vowel sounds.

    1. Here is the IPA for 'murder' in rhotic dialects of English: [mɝdɚ]. Since the second vowel is unstressed, it becomes a rhot(a)icized schwa (schwa is [ə], rotated lower case 'e').
    2. In r-less southern England English, and particularly in RP, 'murder' is [mɜdə], or at any rate something close. (RP, Received Pronunciation, has traditionally been the native accent of about three percent of the English).
    3. The consonantal 'r' of English is [ɹ]. The consonantal 'r' of French and German is [ʁ] (except that they are also trilled, and I would transcribe the German sound as ˞], including the diacritic for rhotaicity).
    4. 'Error' in rhotic dialects is [eɹɚ]. (in General American, this [e] sounds more like the 'e' in German 'bett' than the 'é' of French or the 'ä' of standard German), while in RP it may be [ɛɹə].

    In General American, 'cut', 'hunt' are [kɜt, hɜnt], but in parts of England they may be [kɐt, hɐnt] or [kʌt, hʌnt]. (Here are some helpful comparisons to some foreign languages:

    German: 'staat, stadt' [štat, štɐt]; 'hase, hasse' [hazə, hɐsə]
    Catalan: 'Entença' (stop on the Barcelona metro): [ɐntɛnsə].)

    You can study and cut-and-paste the International Phonetic Alphabet here. (But the vowel section is giving me pasting problems as I compose this message. The space surrounding the vowel symbol gets cut, too. Once I paste the piece, which is a boxed section, into this WR window, I cut the vowel symbol again and delete the box. With the consonant symbols on this Web page, the symbol will cut clear of its surroundings and it will paste in one step.)

    What is rhot(a)icity? It is the contraction of the front of the tongue along the front-to-back dimension. The anatomical results are that the front portion of the tongue is "bunched" (compacted) and the front rim of the tongue DOESN'T TOUCH ANYTHING BUT AIR. Imagine you are walking blindfolded in a broad space, so that if you stretch out your arms, there's nothing for your hands to touch. To master rhot(a)icity, you have to figure out the correct muscle action of the tongue with almost the only tactile cues being the sensation of the tongue alone; the tongue does not touch the teeth. I suggest that this explains why sounds as heavily rhotic as the English 'r' are quite rare in the world's languages. The "fully pronounced" 'r' of standard German is also heavily rhotic.

    Many authorities claim that the '-er' of German 'guter' is the same as the 'u' of English 'cut, hunt'. Many of us in the WR forum, me included, disagree. I propose that the explanation for this difference which is obvious to many ears is that the German sound is rhotaicized, while the English vowels are not. In both German and English, the vowels are formed with the front rim of the tongue touching the lower teeth. An imaging study showed that consonantal 'r' of German, as in 'jahre', is heavily rhotaicized, but that the 'r' of French is not. (P. Delattre, 1971, Phonetica 23:129-155; cited in P. Ladefoged and I. Maddieson, 1996, The Sounds of the World's Languages.)

    Consequently, I disagree that the syllable final German '-er' is pronounced like the 'a' in 'stadt, hasse' (again, they almost certainly are the same in some dialects of German). To my ear, the IPA for 'wasser' is [βɐsɐ˞], not [βɐsɐ] nor [βɐsə]. But that's just my opinion.

    I also suspect that for the standard German '-er' ([ɐ˞] in my personal transcription), the the back of the tongue is bunches forward, making the throat wider than for German short 'a' ([ɐ]) or than for any English vowel.
     

    DaleC

    Senior Member
    I have extensively amended my original post, #16 (which the moderator kindly copied into post #21). Again, I invite speakers from the British Isles to correct my IPA transcriptions of local pronunciations.

    Best wishes,
    DaleC
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    DaleC said:
    I have extensively amended my original post, #16 (which the moderator kindly copied into post #21). Again, I invite speakers from the British Isles to correct my IPA transcriptions of local pronunciations.

    Best wishes,
    DaleC
    Hmmm.
    Taking into account the posts that followed the original post, #16, it would have been more helpful to create a new post in a form that we can all read.

    Such extensive editing of an old post, out of synchronism with the rest of the thread, is not at all helpful to the flow of discussion or the understanding of readers today and in future.
     

    DaleC

    Senior Member
    (The content of this post is a revised version of post #16. Most of the revisions are additions, but here and there old remarks have been made more cautious. Revisions are shown in green. Because of the extensive revising as well as problems with the font used before, I will delete post #16.)

    I invite speakers from the British Isles to improve on my transcriptions of local pronunciations.

    As far as I know, there is only one English vowel that has a special name: schwa. [Below, I have deliberately magnified unfamiliar symbols because they may be hard to make out.]

    In researching these sounds, bear in mind the following: the references to German are strictly to standard German; and some English dialects have lost the 'r' sound at the end of syllables (they are called "r-less" or "nonrhotic"). Both English and German have massive dialect variation in their vowel sounds. If I am not mistaken, in Scotland 'r' involves the tongue touching the palate, like the 'r' in most of the world's languages, such as Italian. Ireland has yet two other variations.

    1. Here are the IPA spellings which the experts agree on for 'server', 'murder' in most American dialects of English: [sɝvɚ], [mɝdɚ]. Since the second vowel is unstressed, it becomes a rhoticized schwa (schwa is [ə], rotated lower case 'e'). In hindsight, since the experts also agree that [ɝ, ɚ] have narrowing of the lips (at least partially) in most AE and BE dialects, then [ɝ] may be wrong and the correct symbol would really be [ɞ˞]. But for the rest of this post, I'll use [ɝ].
    2. In r-less dialects of southern England, and particularly in RP, 'server', 'murder' are [sɜvə], [mɜdə], or at any rate something close -- [sɜvɜ]?. (RP, Received Pronunciation, has traditionally been the native accent of about three percent of the English).
    3. The consonantal 'r' of English is [ɹ]. The consonantal 'r' of French and German is [ʁ] (except that it is also trilled in French and German, and I would transcribe the German sound as ˞], including the diacritic for rhoticity).
    4. 'Error' in rhotic American dialects is [eɹɚ], while in RP it may be [ɛɹə]. (In General American, [e] sounds more like the 'e' in German 'bett' than the 'é' of French or the 'ä' of standard German. Do not confuse [ɛ] with [ɜ].)
    5. In Ireland, the pronunciation is different. The singer Sinéad O'Connor seems to use [ʌ˞] or [ɔ˞]. On the other hand, many Irish pronounce the sound with the lips spread, so that the sound really is [ɝ] and not [ɞ˞].

    In General American, 'cut', 'hunt' are [kɜt, hɜnt], but in parts of England they may be [kɐt, hɐnt] or [kʌt, hʌnt]. (Here are some helpful comparisons to some foreign languages:

    German: 'staat, stadt' [ʃtaːt, ʃtɐt]; 'hase, hasse' [haːzə, hɐsə] -- 'ː' means a vowel is long.
    Catalan: 'Entença' (stop on the Barcelona metro): [ɐntɛnsə].)

    You can study and cut-and-paste the International Phonetic Alphabet here. (But the vowel section is giving me pasting problems as I compose this message. The space surrounding the vowel symbol gets cut, too. Once I paste the piece, which is a boxed section, into this WR window, I cut the vowel symbol again and delete the box. With the consonant symbols on this Web page, the symbol will cut clear of its surroundings and it will paste in one step.) Try using Firefox as the browser instead of Netscape Navigator.

    What is rhoticity? It is the contraction of the front of the tongue along the front-to-back dimension. The anatomical results are that the front portion of the tongue is "bunched" (compacted) and the front rim of the tongue DOESN'T TOUCH ANYTHING BUT AIR. Imagine you are walking blindfolded in a broad space, so that if you stretch out your arms, there's nothing for your hands to touch. To master rhoticity, you have to figure out the correct muscle action of the tongue with almost the only tactile cues being the sensation of the tongue alone; the tongue does not touch the teeth. I suggest that this explains why sounds as heavily rhotic as the English 'r' are quite rare in the world's languages. The "fully pronounced" 'r' of standard German is also heavily moderately rhotic.

    Many authorities claim that the '-er' of German 'guter' is the same as the 'u' of English 'cut, hunt'. Many of us in the WR forum, me included, disagree. I propose that the explanation for this difference which is obvious to many ears is that the German sound might be rhoticized, while the English vowels are not. In both German and English, the vowels (except for [ɝ, ɚ]) are formed with the front rim of the tongue touching the lower teeth. An imaging study showed that consonantal 'r' of German, as in 'jahre', is heavily rhoticized, but that the 'r' of French is not. (P. Delattre, 1971, Phonetica 23:129-155; cited, including the images, in P. Ladefoged and I. Maddieson, 1996, The Sounds of the World's Languages.) I suggest that the German '-er' is also rhoticized, slightly. But I don't know of any research that backs up the claim.

    Consequently, I disagree that the syllable final German '-er' is pronounced like the 'a' in 'stadt, hasse' (again, they almost certainly are the same in some dialects of German). To my ear, the IPA for 'wasser' is [βɐsɐ˞] or [βɐsɝ], not [βɐsɐ] nor [βɐsə]. (German has [β], not [v].) But that's just my opinion. Also, my claim of [ɝ] for 'wasser' refers only to "tongue height". Whether the German '-er' is ever a [ɝ], it still never sounds like the [ɝ] of most AE and BE dialects for two reasons. In English the sound is rhoticized ("bunched" tongue) heavily, plus the lips are pursed (narrowed in the vertical direction).

    I also suspect that for the standard German '-er' ([ɐ˞] in my personal transcription), the throat opening also is different than it is in German short 'a' ([ɐ]) or than for any English vowel.
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    Although probably most AE speakers are rhotic many are non-rhotic, especially in Boston and New York City, other parts of the states they are in are often rhotic.
     
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