Rhoticity

r

There are many accents of English and many differences among them but the most prominent one is whether the /r/ is pronounced before consonants and at the end of words.

In most British dialects it isn’t while in most American dialects it is. These are called rhotic dialects and besides Standard American, Scottish, Irish and Canadian are members of this group. Received Pronunciation (Standard British), Australian, South African, New-Zealandish are called non-rhotic variants.

Non-rhotic variants only pronounce the /r/ before a vowel. Compare how card is pronounced by a British and an American speaker:

(Br) — (Am)

The /r/ isn’t pronounced by the British person since it’s followed by a consonant. Notice how the vowel is a bit longer there.

In case of red, the two variants are identical since a vowel follows the /r/.

(Br) — (Am)

In accordance with the rule, in the word bar the /r/ isn’t pronounced in British English, but it is in American:

(Br) — (Am)

We’re not surprised since it is not followed by a vowel, it is in word-final position.

Now let’s see a phrase:

(Br) — (Am)

Here both variants pronounce the /r/ in star because it is followed by a vowel. So, this rule applies beyond a single word, it is called a post-lexical rule.

Now that we know how it works, can you tell what would happen to the word stares? Listen:

Stares (Br) — Stares (Am)

If you got tricked because you thought that the /r/ was followed by the vowel /e/, you need to remember that pronunciation matters, not spelling. Notice how I always write /r/ referring to the sound rather than the letter r. The letter e is silent, we don’t pronounce it as /e/ or /i/ in this word, so /r/ is followed by a consonant, hence unpronounced.

Rhoticity doesn’t only describe English. All languages can be categorized as rhotic or non-rhotic. What’s yours?

Sources:

http://hlavsa.net/files/Peter.Roach_1998_English.Phonetics.and.Phonology_2e.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhoticity_in_English

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