Pronunciation of the letter R

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by Godfather, Dec 8, 2005.

  1. Godfather Member

    German, Switzerland
    I have always wondered if there are some useful terms to describe the different pronunciation of the letter R. For me there are three different types.

    1. The rolling R between tongue and incisors. Predominant in Italian, Spanish, Swiss German, Portuguese, Frisian, Finnish, Scottish English etc. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

    2. The rolling R at the palate (like gargling). Predominant in French, High German etc.

    3. The R with tongue-retroflexion (Thank you DBM ;)). Predominant in British English, American English etc.

    I don't know if the term "rolling R" even exists. I took it from German ("rollendes R"). But I hope you get my point anyway. Are there useful terms to make a distinction between these pronunciations in any language?
  2. diegodbs

    diegodbs Senior Member

    In Spanish there are two ways to pronounce the "r": "vibrante simple" and "vibrante múltiple".
  3. xav

    xav Senior Member

    In French, we have the "r roulé" for people who use the "version 1" of the r (usually people of the country).

    And "version 2" r is called a "r grasseyé". I think "grasseyer" means a vibration of the uvula (= glottis ?) against the back part of the tongue.

    Grasseyer l'r (rare). Ainsi en français, l'usage général de grasseyer l'r n'empêche pas beaucoup de personnes de le rouler (SAUSSURE, Ling. gén., 1916, p. 164.). Saussure means many French people use both vibrations on the same time - never noticed that.

    A very few French people pronounce "r" like a Spanish "j" or a German "ach" - so did I as I was 5, for the big amusement of my older cousins.
  4. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It is clear that this thread is going to be multi-lingual.
    I am therefore moving it to the Other Languages forum, where I hope it will enjoy multi-lingual comment.
    A signpost will be left in English-Only, where it began, so that EO viewers may see where it has gone:)
  5. tZeD New Member

    Canada (English)
    This is commonly called a trill, but rolled R is very common too. But like diegobs mentions there are two R's in Spanish, and the other one is called a tap (or flap), which I guess corresponds to "vibrante simple". The tap is the only kind of R in Greek, e.g., and it occurs in my English in words like "medal".

    This one's called uvular, probably for the reason xav gives.

    I didn't know what the name for this is, but the technical name for different R's is "rhotic consonants," and googling that gives "alveolar or retroflex approximant."
  6. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    A very common allophone (realisation) of "r" is nothing in the English of southern England!

    We don't pronounce anything when the "r" is at the end of the word "father" "mother" "better" etc, where the "r" just tells you that the final syllable is a schwa.

    However if a vowel follows it's still pronounced "father Ian". Indeed since it then effectively serves to keep vowel sounds apart this tendency has spread to situations where there never was an "r" but only two vowels together. For example, for me "sawing" and "soaring" are homophonous. "Eva ordered" would be "eva rordered" etc.
  7. DaleC Senior Member

    In the following discussion, I will rely on English language terminology. Interested readers are referred to the definitive handbook, The sounds of the world's languages, by Peter Ladefoged and Ian Maddieson, 1994. This book, which is intended for professional phoneticians, devotes entire chapters each to R sounds and L sounds.

    For German language terminology, read Phonetische Transkription I, 13. Rhotics - "r"-laute
    (Google on <site:de phonetik trill tap>; or instead of filtering by country domain, filter by language using Advanced Search.) This text also uses trill, tap.

    For geographical information about specific languages and to learn their language family affiliations, search

    You classification is close to that of professional phoneticians. Your classification uses only one parameter, which corresponds to what is called manner. The articulatory (anatomical) description of sounds requires several parameters, but the best known ones are called "place" and "manner".

    In the parameter of manner, there are four or five types of R sound. The above mentioned work mentions at least three: trill, tap, and approximant. One apt description of the approximant R of English is "bunched". The bunched R, in either the retroflexed or nonretroflexed varieties, is a very unusual sound in the world's languages. A trill is just a multiple tap.

    There is also the flap (The above mentioned book does recognize flaps, but I forget whether flaps are recognized in the chapter on the R sounds.) Fifthly, there is what for purposes of this post I will term the "typical" occlusive and "typical" affricate, which is namely the all the other affricates and occlusives (stops) presented in phonetics. Trills, taps, and flaps are articulations where the tongue touches (contacts) the "upper articulator" (the second surface which participates in the articulation). The contact usually achieves complete closure, but not necessarily. Approximants lack contact; vowels are approximants. Trill and tap contact involves aerodynamics. Flap contact, like that of other occlusive consonants, does not involve aerodynamics. To use lay terminology, a tap is a "snap", a flap is a "flick". When a sound whose manner is "typical" occlusive or "typical" affricate has retroflexion in its "place" parameter, the result is an affricate or stop with an R sound.

    Scholars including linguists and phoneticians who mistakenly think it's retroflexed can compare instrumentally generated tracings of it with those of retroflexed sounds. The English R resembles the retroflexed R which exists in a few languages, including the affricate in Mapudungu/Mapudungun (traditionally known as Mapuche -- indigenous to central Chile) and vowels and consonants in many languages of India, in particular the "R-ized" (rhotaicized) vowels of Badaga of the southwest (Badaga belongs to the Dravidian language family). The approximant in Scandinavian may be retroflexed, but I am no longer sure. (I am personally acquainted with the R of Scandinavian and Mapudungu. I have spoken along to recordings of Mapudungu, and I took Swedish in college for a year.)
  8. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
    Speaking of Scandinavian:

    I would like some insight into the production of the Danish "r", which differes markedly from the various Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish "r"s, as well as the German "r". Can anyone help?
  9. DaleC Senior Member

    Here's what I know. I spoke with a Danish stewardess about why her English had a uvular R (as in standard French, standard German). She said it was common among Danes.

    I am interested to learn the Danish uvular R differs from German uvular R. But I can tell you, from reading instrumental tracings, how German and French uvular R's differ: it's the tongue rim. The French nudge the tongue rim against the lower teeth while articulating the uvular R, while the Germans pull it completely away from the lower teeth (or at least away from all but the molars).

    Some phoneticians believe that the uvular R originated in France. For certain, it has been expanding its territory since the 1600s. It is a prestige variant in northern Italian and southern Swedish. Southern Sweden belonged to Denmark until some time in the 1600s or 1700s. The development of uvular R in French itself has apparently not been fully elucidated. The Provençal language has both apical R and uvular R (although the ancestor language, Latin, had only apical R). Many French and German dialects have apical R instead.
  10. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    Concerning Finnish you are right (1). There are Finnish people who pronounce as (2) but it's considered as mispronouncing.
  11. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Most dialects of Portuguese have two ways to pronounce the R, analogous to the ones of Spanish: [r] and [rr].

    The [r] is an alveolar flap/tap, like in Spanish and Italian.
    The [rr] has many different pronunciations, according to dialect. Two widespread pronunciations for it are the uvular trill, similar to the R of standard French and High German (Portugal), and the aspirated h (Brazil).
    In some dialects, especially Brazilian ones, the "r" is silent at the end of a syllable, like in RP British English.

    More information in this post.
  12. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    It's a very general phenomenon, in Europe. The Wikipedia has a page on it.
  13. Godfather Member

    German, Switzerland
    Very interesting DaleC, thank you!

    By the way the guttular/uvular R is also used in Swiss German. Sometimes by people who simply don't manage to express the alveolar R. In some cities, for example Basel, the uvular is predominant. And in the canton Bern the uvular R is considered an aristocratic way of speech. It's often a matter of their respective dialect (Basel, Bern, Zurich etc. are completely different). Because everyone learns High German in school, most people are capable of both alveolar R and guttural/uvular R though.
  14. DaleC Senior Member

    I forgot to mention that the terms "trill, tap, flap, approximant" are all technical terms used by phoneticians. The word that lay English speaking people use for "trill" is indeed "rolled R".
  15. JimmySeal Member

    Japanese has a consonant that's almost always romanized as R, but it's a "postalveolar flap." To an English speaker it sounds like a cross between R, D, and L. Most Japanese people have trouble learning to pronounce R and L correctly in other languages. Apparently the Korean R is similar to the Japanese R.
  16. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    Hebrew originally had an alveolar tap (Spanish r), but under influence from European immigrants it became a voiced uvular fricative (French r). I think that this pronunciation is now pretty much universal, at least in Hebrew spoken by native Israelis, but the confirmation of a native speaker would be good.
  17. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    I once met a Japanese who apparently had problems of pronouncing R. He asked me "Do you eat (c)raw fish in Finland?" I thought he was speaking about crawfish/crayfish and my answer was not exactly corret.

    After all, we Finns eat both raw (salted) fish and crayfish, so there was no problem with the menu.
  18. JimmySeal Member

    I haven't known Japanese people to insert a k sound where it doesn't belong, but a lot of people would pronounce all of the words:
    as "kuroo"
  19. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    Thank you Jimmy Seal!
    I'm sure you're right. I didn't have the opportunity to ask him what he really meant; to my ears it sounded like "crawfish" but later I understood that he was trying to say "raw fish". I suppose that the difficulties of pronouncing R made him pronounce it "harder" than necessary, so it sounded like "CR".
  20. BasedowLives

    BasedowLives Senior Member

    could anyone shed some light on the norwegian pronunciation of the R?

    I've heard various ways, sometimes they roll the R and sometimes they don't. Is it regional, or just certain words?
  21. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
    There's a great deal of regional and dialectical variation, including a trilled r, as you have noted, and an r that sounds much more like Danish, etc. Dialects persist in Norway!

    When us Americans study Bokmål (one of the two official kinds of Norwegian) we learn to use a trilled r, but when we go actually go to Norway we hear all kinds of r's!
  22. OneStroke Senior Member

    Hong Kong, China
    Chinese - Cantonese (HK)
    In Chinese, the 'r' is kinda like the English one except you've got to curl up your tongue!
  23. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    In Greek «ρo» [ro] --> letter r is pronounced as:

    1/ «Φατνιακό ηχηρό» [fatni.a'ko içi'ɾo] --> Alveolar trill [r], in the beginning of a word, before consonants, or in stressed positions e.g. «άρχοντας» ['arxondas] (masc.) --> lord, sire, archon
    2/ «Φατνιακό παλλόμενο» [fatni.a'ko pa'lomeno] --> Alveolar tap [ɾ], in unstressed positions, or between vowels, e.g. «χορός» [xo'ɾos] (masc.) --> dance
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2012

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