The pronunciation of r

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by J.F. de TROYES, Jan 21, 2008.

  1. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    Split from this thread.
    Frank (mod)

    The “r” pronunciation depends on the regions and on the age of the speaker users; at the present time the trilled “r” has become rare and is never used in standard French. The nowadays usual “R” (dorsal ) appeared during the 18th century in Paris and around ( the reason why is controversial, maybe due to English influence) and widely expanded into most of the cities . But in Burgundy and in some areas of southern France people generally old and living in the countryside still pronounce the trilled “r” .
  2. francois_auffret Banned

    Lahore, Pakistan
    France, French

    I think the study of the trilled 'R' is something that is missing and that seems very interesting to me. A few observations from a layman, correct me if I am wrong:

    As far as my knowledge is concerned, a few Western European languages lost their trilled 'r' in the last two or three centuries: these are: English, German, French, and some dialects of Italian (I think they use the 'French' "r" around Parma in Italy). I have studied myself a few languages from different continents, and have never heard of any language lacking the trilled "r", which appear to be one of the basic sounds common to almost all of humanity, although it has a specific pronounciation in every language (heavily trilled in Arabic, lightly in Indian languages, to the extent of being close to an 'l', a liquid, as in Japanese).
    So as far as I know, these changes occured in parts of the world having undergone the Industrial revolution, and they date back to that period of time... This point calls for further study by people more qualified than I am... These pronounciations of 'r' also are definitely considered as 'urban' and not originating from the countryside...

    Another interesting point is that the change from a trilled 'r' to the 'grasseyé' one is the consequence of speakers putting less muscular effort in the production of this sound... Instead of hitting the bottom of the teeth at the junction of the palate (alveolas) and trilling, vibrating, the tongue stays back and vibrate on its own, further back towards the throat... It is interesting to note that this sound seems different to me in French when it is pronounced by the new generation... it is less grasseyé (as in our grandparent's pronounciation or Brassens' or Piaf's songs) and closer to guttural sounds of the Arabic language for instance (something between arabic 'KH' in 'très' and 'GHAYN' in other contexts)...

    I have never heard of any literature mentioning these points... If someone knows...
  3. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Well, yes, but not quite, because as far as I know:

    - in English, trilled 'r' still exists in some accents and dialects (and even in RP in some cases, I think); apart from that, in English there was no shift from trilled to fricative pronunciation of 'r' but rather between trilled one and rhotic pronunciation: this is a different thing altogether, you couldn't link that one with the other one

    - in French indeed the fricative pronunciation of 'r' now dominates completely and the trilled pronunciation is limited to a very small number of speakers; certainly in French films you won't hear a rolled 'r' anymore, I'd say (or hardly ever and then for colour)

    - in German too fricative 'r' is now dominating, but there are still regions where rolled 'r' is very common (both rolled at the uvula and with the tip of the tongue) and you certainly still could hear rolled 'r' in Films even though fricative 'r' will dominate

    - in Italy the fricative 'r' is rather common in Northern Italy but in the Appenines and south of it rolled 'r', I think, is dominant; however, in Italian films (the few I saw) rolled 'r' was used, so it seems rolled 'r' is considered being the 'correct' Italian 'r' even though fricative 'r' is used

    This just to make this clear, and yes, I am coming back to topic, sorry for the small digression ...: yes, French nowadays certainly has a fricative 'r' (une 'r' grasseyé) - this really should be clear to everyone even though some French native speakers still roll their 'r's. And yes, French fricative 'r' might very well be the cause for shifts in 'r'-pronunciation in German and Italian.

    However, does this make today's French so much different from the one spoken in the past? Not for my ears; but French native speakers probably think otherwise.

    The reason why 'r' in 'très' might sound 'Arabaic' to you, francois_auffret, might be a simple one: now that the 'r' is no more trilled but a fricative 'r' it is only natural that the 'r' becomes devoiced after a voiceless stop - this is coarticulation and can happen in any language.
    And a voiceless, fricative 'r' would sound so much 'harder' to your ears than a voiced, fricative 'r'.
  4. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    I am afraid I don't think so. Many languages have a kind of "R", but the trilled "r" does'nt seem to me so worldwide ; so it is unknown in Chinese, Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese , and I suppose this feature is not specific to Eastern Asian languages.

    I think it's really uneasy to clear up the reasons why the pronounciation gradually changes, but your hypothesis is interesting: This change is originally urban, popular (?) and occurs about at the same period, but how to establish a link between a phonetic evolution and a historical or economical background ? Maybe these languages were mutually influenced. What is disappearing at the present time is the so called “Parisian accent” which was specific to a wide working class with a strongly grasseyed “R” ; it can be heard from famous actors’ voices in the 1930 s./ 1940 s. movies
    as Gabin or Arletty.

    I agree with your phonetic explanation. Between the trilled "r" and the dorsal "R" there was probably an intermediate step with a double vibration, the apical vibration being strengthened by another in the back part of the mouth, then the apex of the tongue fell and vibrations disappeared.
  5. HKK

    HKK Senior Member

    3010 Leuven, Be.
    Have you tried this double vibration sound? I think it's impossible :)
  6. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    If Wikipedia is correct, there are two kinds of r grasseyé, one that is a uvular fricative, and another that is a uvular trill.

    The latter should not be confused with the Spanish/Italian alveolar trill. They sound quite different. In fact, I find the uvular trill much closer in sound to the uvular fricative than to the Spanish trill.
  7. 0stsee Banned

    In Indonesian there are always people who use "French" R.
    Their occurrence is quite random, comparable to lefthandedness.
  8. francois_auffret Banned

    Lahore, Pakistan
    France, French
    Well, you know, I am a native speaker of French and having heard this sound for almost forty years now, I am seriously thinking that this is the most unstable of the whole French language and that is rapidly becoming something else. Depending on its environment it may change to a voiceless palatal fricative (in très) or to an voiced uvular fricative... (see under the following quote). I was rather asking native French speakers their opinion on this point... I mean the change, let's say in the last fifty years in the pronounciation of this 'R' sound in French... Has anyone noticed it???

    THanks Outsider for this post. I meant that the French 'R' 50 years ago was rather a Uvular trill and that now it has almost completely turned to a Fricative... And that makes it sounds pretty close to the Arabic GHAYN, which it was not before... What would be interesting to know is wether the uvular trill you describe is a stable sound in other languages, as it seems to represent in modern French a transition point between the alveolar trill (the original 'R', still preserved in standard italian) and the uvular fricative

    Thanks for this remark. It made me wonder whether these sounds ever existed historically in these Eastern Asian languages???? But I guess that would be a new thread so let's keep the question pending and not make our moderator angry.

    I pretty much think that this is indeed a very specific feature of this linguistic area, because: All of Europe has (or rather: had) it. All of the Indian subcontinent. Central Asia. Caucasus. Middle East. Africa (to be confirmed?). Native America (to be confirmed too?). In order to check that, I am starting a new thread on this question...
  9. Cnaeius

    Cnaeius Senior Member

    Italian, Italy
    :confused: Never heard fricative r in North Italy and nowhere in Italy (except in people with pronounciation defects). I think you are wrong on this.
  10. 0stsee Banned

    Let's not forget that Indonesian-Malaysian, and I suppose Tagalog has an R.

    It is pronounced in various ways, though, including the French way. Some Malaysians even use the English pronunciation of R.
  11. Joannes Senior Member

    Belgian Dutch
    In most northern Dutch varieties it is. And I think in many German varieties as well. And maybe more up North too. :)

    (I myself have a uvular trill as /r/ (because I grew up in Brussels), but was never mocked for it in Antwerp, where the pronunciation as an alveolar trill is dominant. (People in Spain, on the other hand, say I speak Spanish like a Frenchman - maybe not only because of my /r/, but also because of my constructions :D. So, there it seems to be more marked.) I know people that pronounce their /r/ as a uvular fricative, and they are/were often mocked with it (at least in Antwerp, where - as I said - the alveolar trill is dominant). --- So, I think, in Antwerp/Belgium, the markedness of /r/ isn't as much in the place of articulation, but rather in the manner of articulation.)
  12. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I have it from literature, not from personal experience.

    And even though I did search google for about an hour I didn't find a single reference to it any more, so I might have remembered wrong (or was it probably trilled uvular 'r' in Northern Italian dialects? - now I am not sure of anything anymore, sorry; yes I know, if I claim something I should be able to come up with a source ...).

    Voiceless palatal fricative, yes - this really would sound completely different. But as I am no native speaker of French I can only contribute that my French teacher (also no native speaker, of course!) only used voiced velar fricative for her pronunciation of French.

    Yes, uvular trill is very common in German; especially in Switzerland and Austria, I'd say, but probably elsewhere too.
    There also are some regions which use almost exclusively velar fricative (like Tyrol/Austria, where by the way this voiced velar fricative even could become voiceless after voiceless plosive - this is very typical for Tyrol and will be recognized as such).
    Other regions still use predominately apical trill (with the tip of the tongue; this you don't hear often in Austria, but almost exclusively in some regions like especially Vorarlberg/Austria; Bavarians still consider the apical trill as the one and only 'proper' Bavarian 'r', and it may still be very much alive elsewhere).
    Overall, I'd say that the most used variety of 'r' in German should be the velar fricative.
  13. vince Senior Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    Are there any languages that use the English pronunciation of "r"?

    Someone on this thread mentioned certain accents of Malay. I've heard that some Brazilians also use the English "r", can anyone confirm?
  14. francois_auffret Banned

    Lahore, Pakistan
    France, French
    You must have heard about the Breton language, this celtic language spoken in Brittany on the other side of the Channel, south to Cornwall. This language is divided in four dialects Kerne Leon Tregor Gwened...

    I have heard a number of persons from Tregor (the region around the cities of Tregor (Tréguier in French), Gwengamp (Guingamp), native speakers of Breton, using the English R. It's not like the whole of Tregor is using that English R, but I was so amazed, especially knowing that a direct influence of English has to be ruled out (am I wrong here???) although England is close (the other side of the Channel). I don't think any other part of Britanny uses the English R, but that discovery was quite a surprise to me...
  15. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I heard it used by an Italian called Francesco da Mosto, who had a series on UK television. He is a descendant of Sicilian noblemen, and comes from Venice. I wonder if there was a tradition of French tutors in his family or if the Italian nobility regarded French culture as a model that should be imitated.
  16. 0stsee Banned

    Hi. I wrote that some Malaysians use English R. I know a Brazilian who also uses English R. If I'm not wrong he comes from Säo Paulo. I heard a Puerto Rican who also used English R, not all the time, but often enough that you notice it.
  17. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Probably only a curiosity, his velar 'r', as I did some further research and found again no hints of any Italian dialects where the 'r' is not an alveolar trill; for example, on Orbis Latinus Lombard dialects 'r' is described as alveolar flap (but alveolar for sure if not trill), and on the same site Venetian dialects' 'r' is stated as 'as in Italian' (it is not described but only said that it's not different from Italian).
    So it may well be, as suggested by Cnaeius above, that indeed in Northern Italy velar 'r' is unheard of and that my suggestion that this is not so would be completely wrong.
  18. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I was listening to the audio version of the Wikipedia article on the Welsh language (click on the right to hear it). I don't know if the reader is a native speaker but, if he is, then it's very curious, because his "r" does not sound alveolar to me, contrary to what the phonetic transcription in the article implies. It seems distinctly uvular! Do others agree? It would be nice if someone familiar with Welsh could give some input, though that does not seem likely...
  19. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    If you mean British “received pronunciation”, I could think of Swedish and Turkish – with some restrictions, though:

    In Swedish it would depend both on position (in the word) and on dialect – the phoneme /r/ being to some extent as complicated distributionally and geographically as /ɧ/ (about the latter, see here).

    As far as Turkish is concerned, the [r] in question would only be found in Istanbul Turkish and among speakers of this (historically) prestigious dialect. One could possibly say that /r/ in Turkish constitutes a kind of shiboleth.

    Speakers of Norwegian dialects in Northern Norway would equally exhibit the same phonetic particularity. I have heard a claim of a Sami substratum to this effect, but I am unable to judge how likely that would be.

    I have indeed noticed it, and I find the question intriguing. Honestly, I don’t think native speakers would be the best informants on this issue, and the reason for such an impertinent claim, as it were, a claim which is not quite appreciated among your linguistically observant fellow countrymen, :D is that with the exception of Frenchmen who have lived abroad (and notably in another linguistic community for a long period of time), Frenchmen are like anybody else: we only discover tiny changes in our everyday linguistic habits in hindsight and not in progress. A person who has not lived in France for a long time – f.ex. a foreign student coming back after 30 years – will inevitably discover things that the natives are only becoming aware of after being confronted with them.

    Essentially, it boils down to the socio-anthropological dilemma: you can’t be both “one of us” and “one of them”. But the socio-anthropologist (and indeed the linguist) have got some small “advantages”. They are in possession of a descriptive tool and a method of observation which only systematically trained natives (professional linguists, teachers, etc.) have got when it comes to observing their own language. See this example which has largely influenced my own opinion on this subject. Recently, I was involved myself in a similar case of native non-acceptance of a native phonetic reality.

    I am not surprised at all that your question has remained without any reaction for just about three weeks by now. ;)

    Elaborating on the phenomenon linked to your request may be a “delicate matter” because of the comparisons which necessarily have to be made. 1) One interesting parameter is the French language of immigrants, especially second generation. 2) Another one is French spoken (and widely used) in Maghrebine North Africa – and indeed by immigrants in France.
    If you mean
    غ, I agree with you, and yet the quality of this velar fricative is slightly different from the “contemporary version”, so to say, of French /r/ (depending on position in the word). The observation, however, is a very acute one.

    3) A third parameter is “linguistic drift”.

    The French phoneme /r/ is drifting – there is no doubt about that. The question as to why this is happening is controversial. In fact, phenomena like drift and merging phonemes are controversial matters in any language. In French (and in some other languages with a heavy literary tradition), it also touches upon a taboo.
    :) :)
  20. Wynn Mathieson

    Wynn Mathieson Senior Member

    Castell-nedd Port Talbot
    English - United Kingdom
    I don't know why you would think that such input would be unlikely, Outsider! :)

    The reader you refer to is certainly not a native speaker (his quotations from Welsh are pronounced with a distinct English accent) -- and I very much doubt he is even Welsh. The geographic origin of his accent is hard to pinpoint precisely, but I would place it somewhere in Northwestern England. His l's and his r's both sound very un-Welsh -- in fact he pronounces the letter "rh" in a very curious French-sounding manner!

  21. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Thank you! :)

    I said unlikely because in the Other Languages forum queries about Welsh usually don't get many replies.

    I thought his "r", especially, sounded rather French-like. Is that typical of any English accent in Great Britain?
  22. Wynn Mathieson

    Wynn Mathieson Senior Member

    Castell-nedd Port Talbot
    English - United Kingdom
    Yes: of the "Geordie" accent of Newcastle upon Tyne in north-east England.

    Go to

    and click on the words

    "it was delivered very often the same day it was produced"

    at the bottom of the page.


    P.S. To be more accurate, you don't really hear a lot of it in urban Newcastle speech today: it tends to be more of a rural feature.
  23. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Thanks a lot, I can see the pictures. :cool:

    You're right, the "r" sounds totally different.

    Fascinating, I had no idea!
  24. avok

    avok Banned

    Hi Wynn, I listened to the link you gave many times however it does not sound guttural as in French or German to me :confused:. But yes,it is different.
  25. Scalloper Senior Member

    UK, English
    an uvular R sound is increasingly rare even in rural Northumberland. You would not hear it at all on Tyneside. You could hear some recordings from about 50 years ago on the collectbritain website where the pronunciation is very , um, traditional. Listen to the one from Embleton in particular.
  26. brian

    brian Senior Member

    AmE (New Orleans)
    Going back to the question of whether other languages have the English 'r', and also bringing up Italian and Italian dialects again :), when I was living in Sicily I noticed that many older Sicilians did not roll their r's at all--neither alveolar nor uvular trill--and neither in Sicilian nor in standard Italian.

    So I just did a quick search and found this (in Italian). If you scroll down to the bottom, you'll see where it says that the prounciations of r in the Sicilian words russu, tri, and strittu are similar to the pronuncations of English r in red, tree, and street, respectively.
  27. Wynn Mathieson

    Wynn Mathieson Senior Member

    Castell-nedd Port Talbot
    English - United Kingdom
    Indeed, it is not "guttural" -- but then neither is the (north) German "r". It is uvular (like the north German / Danish / Skåne "r").

  28. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    "Guttural" is a generic, informal term, not a technical one. According to Wikipedia, it can include uvular consonants.
  29. Wynn Mathieson

    Wynn Mathieson Senior Member

    Castell-nedd Port Talbot
    English - United Kingdom
    Thanks, Outsider.

    By that reasoning, uvular consonants (such as the "Northumbrian r") should indeed be counted as "guttural".

  30. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    The "r" in "produced" was our usual English "r", but the "German-like" one in "delivered" sounded to me more like a "dark l", velar rather than uvular or pharyngeal.

    "Rhotic" refers to a pronunciation that includes "r" sounds after vowels, not a particular kind of "r" sound. Some rhotic pronunciations use rolled (alveolar) "r", some flapped (alveolar) "r", and some an American-style "r". Some mix them up as needed.

    Mandarin Chinese has both an almost American-style "er" sound (more like Irish actually) as well as an initial "r" sound that resembles the English "r" but a little quicker with the lips less rounded and the tongue curled back a little more.

    Besides the "kha" (like German "ch") and "ghayn" (like Greek "ghamma") sounds, Arabic has a "ayn" (initial consonant somewhere between r grasseyé and a yawn) sound, and also a "ra" sound, that I have heard is subject to considerable variation, including at least one uvular variety.
  31. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    This is stage pronunciation. Up to the 1950 most German motion piture actors used stage pronunciation.
  32. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I don't think it was just stage pronunciation. I've heard recordings, made before the Second World War, of dialect speakers from all over the German-speaking area, and all of them use a trilled ("Zungenspitze") "r".
  33. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Yes, there are many German dialects where the r is pronounced as a trill. I never meant to deny that. I was referring to the part " certainly still could hear rolled 'r' in Films...". In Standard German the trill only occurs in stage pronunciation.
  34. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Hello, Bernd,

    It used to occur in Standard German too, didn't it? I've read that the biggest change to the pronunciation of Standard German in the 20th century was the replacement of the trilled "r" by the fricative "r".
  35. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I don't know when it happened (and where; remember, Germany was split into dozens of countries and each had its own "standard" pronunctionation; only spelling was more or less standardized). After 1871, the creation of the "Reich", Standard German changed considerably. Because of the Prussian domination of the Reich the centre of gravity of what is to be considered "standard" moved north. I would assume sounds shifts like this to have occured around that time. I try to remember early 20th century recordings I have heared and how my grand parents spoke (My grand father was born in 1905, my grand mother in 1912). In the early 20th century the sound shift must have had occured already but the r was less weakend than it is today (In modern German the r is often reduced to a sound like the u in English "under" or to a shwa-type of sound). Hitler spoke a "rollendes r" but his pronunciation has certainly from rhetoric school and not native.
  36. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Yes, it is - or rather was (the alveolar rolled 'r' being stage pronunciation in German) as I am not so sure that this still goes for all or even most actors in theatres (certainly this is no more valid for motion picture actors).

    However there are still regions where the alveolar 'r' is actually spoken, in colloquial speech and in dialects.
    And I cannot agree on your statement that rolled alveolar 'r' were not spoken anymore in Standard German, because it certainly is.

    Most speakers of German use the same 'r' in all the linguistic varieties they use, usually the do not use more than one variety of 'r' (exceptions do exist, of course), and usually if their 'r' is alveolar in dialect they'll also use this 'r' in standard language.
    Most noticeably this is so for Vorarlberg speakers, the westernmost province of Austria, where the alveolar 'r' still is very much alive and also used in Standard German. But then of course there are examples of Vorarlberg speakers (like one TV sport reporter) who probably changed their speech and avoid alveolar 'r' in Standard German (I can't be sure here because I didn't know this reporter before he started his career on TV ;-).

    I've also met people from Upper Austria and Styria using an alveolar exclusively, no matter if they spoke dialect or standard. In Vienna all the people I've met so far using an alveolar 'r' were immigrants from countries where alveolar 'r' is the norm. And then some (non-immigrant) Austrians who occasionally switch for comic reasons to alveolar 'r' - not a very nice attitude, but it exists.

    (You may have noted that I don't mention the 'r'-sound in Swiss and Germany - I'll leave that to Swiss and German foreros. So only on a sidenote, I think I'm on the brink of remembering some commercial where a Northern German - one who speaks 'st' as /st/ and not /scht/ even in words like 'stark' - used the alveolar 'r' sound. But I can't come up with a source; I'm only saying that there surely is doubt that the 'French' 'r' in German is due to 'Prussian' influence.)
  37. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)

    I am referring to German German. What may be considered standard and what vernacular is different in Austria and in Germany. The Northern German you are referring to is clearly a vernacular accent and no one speaking like this would deny it (I myself, I am originally from Hamburg, so I think I know what I am saying there).

    What I mean with Prussian influence is that what was considered standard in the Prussian led "Norddeutscher Bund" became standard in the newly created Reich in 1871 and southern German (and Austrian) accents lost their normative power on Standard German. General wisdom is that the accent spoken in the area of Hanover is the most neutral German.

    In Germany, someone pronouncing a "gerolltes r" is considered to speak some sort of a vernacular. This is not to be confused with dialect. Germans differentiate between standard, "coloured" (standard but with some regional idiosyncrasies) and dialectal speech.

    Switzerland is again a different case. Swiss Germans regard Standard German by now as a foreign language which they use in written language only. They would therefore not engage in discussions about which pronunciation is standard and which is not.
  38. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)

    We're not here in the ring to proof who is the strongest one, yes? So please keep it on topic [I won't reply to the points being made off topic], and I would appreciate very much if you wouldn't lecture me. Thank you very much for your cooperation!

    As for your reply: you still have not shown any proof as to wether the 'French' uvular 'r' really was the dominant pronunciation of Northern Germany or indeed the Prussian Reich before the German unification.
    It might well be that the fricative 'r' in German has spread from somewhere else, probably from the West (the regions bordering on France), probably from North-West, probably from East or even South-East.
  39. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)

    I am sorry if I have offended you. It was certainly not my intention to lecture you.

    My only point is that use of the alveolar 'r' is perceived as non-standard in Germany. This is not pejorative as many proudly show their regional identity through deviation from standard pronunciation.

    I don't claim this to be so. That would be a misunderstanding. In fact in much of Northern Germany the alveolar r is dominating. I was asked if I could confirm that the shift from "rolled" to "French" r happened in the 20th century. I said that from my own recollection (how the generation of my grand parents spoke and from having listened to early recordings) the "French" r was standard except in stage pronunciation already in the early 20th century.

    When the "French" r became standard in (German) German I don't know. But, I said, it might well have been towards the end of the 19th century because the standard underwent some changes as a consequence of the creation of the Reich.
  40. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I don't know anything about Prussian German, but wouldn't they probably have used the aveolar "r", as in Polish?
  41. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Prussia annexed so many parts of Germany that you couldn't speak of a single Prussian accent. I presume you mean East-Prussian. You are right the East-Prussian accent had (it is all but extinct by now, of course) a very marked aveolar "r". My grand parents came from East-Prussia but they spoke Standard German with a uvular 'r'.
  42. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    I wonder what sort of r Marion Gräfin Dönhof (1909-2003) had, the famous editor of the newspaper Die Zeit. She was a brilliant observer! Perhaps there are some comments on language – even on the quality of [r] – in East Prussia, say, in her book Kindheit in Ostpreußen ?

    I know she came from a noble family – but would that change anything? Marion Gräfin Dönhof had deep roots in Königsberg; her grandfather[!] was born there in 1798! When it comes to alveolar [r] in Prussia I am inclined to think as Outsider (#40) - confirmed by berndf]/i].

    Are you sure about that? Hitler spent all his youth in various places in Ober
    österreich (I include Passau which is situated at the border to Germany), and I have heard many people both from this area and from the Salzburg area [towards the SW] with an alveolar [r] – as confirmed by sokol:
    Actually, it is very difficult to find out precisely whether this trait belongs to Austrian dialects or not. :confused: Austrians who consistently use an alveolar [r] can’t even decide on the question when being confronted with it. :confused: :confused: Perhaps they have got two rhotic phonemes as in Standard Portuguese? :D –and that they merged differently?!... :rolleyes:

    Is there no dialect atlas of Austria setting up different kinds of [r] as an isogloss?
    :) :)
  43. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)

    Sorry for the typo ("has" instead of "was").

    I have two reasons for saying that:
    1) Hitler was known to be an absolute maniac concerning his public appearances. He practiced for hours in front of the mirror only how to hold his arm. It may safely be assumed that he left nothing to chance regarding his accent either.
    2) As far as I can tell as a non-actor, he spoke (almost) perfect stage pronunciation. In particular, his pronunciation had none of the characteristics which normally reveal the Austrian: voicing of unvoiced plosives at the beginning of a syllable, pronunciation of the diphthong "ei", non-discrimination between closed "e", open "e" and "ä", non-discrimination between the two different pronunciations of the German "ch".
  44. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    I agree that Hitler must have left out certain characteristics of Austrian German – the pronunciation of ei being among the most obvious, but I doubt whether subtle details in phonetics or phonology wouldn’t still reveal his origin. Which reminds me of this discussion – (see Another example + posting #59 a bit later in the thread). However much Hitler practiced in front of a mirror, he was not a linguist and couldn’t possibly be aware of such details you mention. Hitler often spoke with a sort of creaky voice - perhaps in order to hide his origin, cf. Henry Kissinger (mutatis mutandis!).

    On the other hand, Austrian German is, linguistically speaking, a Bavarian dialect – except for the dialect in Vorarlberg (which is allemannisch). Since we are discussing [r] in this thread, this phoneme – as realized by Hitler – could hardly be distinguished from the [r] phoneme in, say, Munich, I imagine. ;)

    I have lived several months in both Munich and Salzburg – compared to longer time in [West] Berlin, but I was too young to be concerned about the subtlety of /r/ phonemes in Munich. :D On the other hand, a great grandmother of mine who was third generation of Austrians in St. Petersburg, was completely integrated in the German-speaking community of the city. I wonder how she spoke. :p
    :) :)
  45. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    You are quite right is saying that the pronunciation of the r in itself cannot be used identify the region the speaker comes from. If you wanted to draw a map where which r is spoken the result would be a very colourful patchwork. E.g. in Frankfurt and most of the neighbouring districts the French r is used, except for the district of Wetterau, north-east of Fankfurt where a rolled r is used. You will find cases like this all over the German language area.

    (It is a bit beside the point but is is actually the voicing of unvoiced plosives which is the most sticky characteristic of Austrian accent(s), the "ei" is only number two.)
  46. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)

    The thing is, as already mentioned by berndf, that Hitler did not show a particularly 'Austrian' accent even though his parents and acquaintances were all from regions where the alveolar 'r' is not rare (Innviertel/Braunau on the one hand and then the Waldviertel).
    [This however has changed in the last decades, in Austria velar 'r' - mostly fricative velar, but uvular trill too - seems to be spreading and alveolar 'r' is already rare in many regions, e. g. in Mühlviertel, Upper Austria.]

    Then you shouldn't forget that Hitler spent many years in Munich: and Bavarians still oftentimes consider the alveolar 'r' as the 'correct' pronunciation in dialect speech (even though I personally have the impression that alveolar 'r' is on the retreat in Bavaria too).

    There are some regions, however, where alveolar 'r' still persists, for example Vorarlberg (as already mentioned).

    The most popular theory about spreading of velar (fricative) 'r' in the German language is the 'French theory' i. e. spreading through the use of French as (first) foreign language in the 18th and 19th century, in which case the velar (uvular) 'r' could very well have spread from various centres simultanuously - but as far as I know there's no proof offered at all (anywhere) if this were accurate.

    Anyway, theoretically the oldest forms of German (Old High German or even Western Germanic, for that matter) should have had alveolar 'r' only. But that's only theory.
  47. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    But he had spent all his formative years – linguistically speaking – in Ober
    österreich. My own experience with people possessing one [r] or the other in their phonemic inventory is that they find it extremely difficult to learn in a natural way a language in which the one they are not accustomed to is de rigueuer. I really don’t know which of the two [r]s we are talking about is the more awkward to learn. Judging from research in child language acquisition, both seem objectively difficult. I’d personally bet on the alveolar [r], though...

    My guess is that Hitler had a “gerolltes r” in his dialect. ;)

    We would have to discuss other possible phoneme substitutions more or less successfully carried out by the dictator in front of a mirror or in another thread. :D
    :) :)
  48. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)

    This is my experience too, and I think that your guess:

    is a rather good one - but nevertheless, however this may have been, I think that Hitler anyway would have changed his pronunciation of 'r' if his immediate surroundings in Munich, where he grew politically speaking, hadn't appreciated of his 'natural' pronunciation.

    But whatever: where Hitler grew up he could have learned any of the varieties of 'r' used in Austria (that is, velar fricative, alveolar trill and uvular trill) as all three of them are used there (still, though with a shift towards velar/uvular varieties).
    I haven't ever studied the speeches of Hitler, so I don't know if there ever has been a change (there won't be any records of the very early years, I'd guess); there may have been, I've no idea. (And to be honest, I don't intend to do so. :))
  49. slado22

    slado22 Member

    I'm currently researching on late spoken Middle French and, according to John Palsgrave's testimonial (1531), in Paris the populace had troubles with the "r" roulé and pronounced it as an intervocalic "z" (e.g."Pazis"), showing that the "r" was already moving to a more dorsal position.
  50. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I would be careful about using the word "already". That may have been a transient phenomenon that did not last. After all, as far as I know the uvular "r" did not become generalized in French until the 18th or the 19th centuries -- 300 years later.

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