R's and no R's

Even a lot of Americans are under the mistaken impression that our rhotic speech (“R-ful” speech) stems from Irish dialects, but it’s not really true. The idea is based on the fallacious belief that the current “RP” (or “Oxford” or whatever you want to call it) pronunciation is the “original” English. The problem is that it’s not the original English. Otherwise, why would standard British spelling have an R in words like “car” and “horse” but the pronunciation lack it?

At the time English was planted on the North American continent, ordinary speech in England was rhotic; in other words, people pronounced all their R’s, just as Irish and most Americans do. Sometime afterward, non-rhotic pronunciation began spreading from somewhere in the interior of England, but it didn’t reach the rural areas, and it didn’t reach Ireland or the US interior. The reason Americans on the East Coast have non-rhotic accents (although less and less) is that they had more contact with England than people living farther inward did, and so they started dropping their R’s also. So the Easterners don’t drop their R’s because they have the older accents, but because they have the newer ones. Thus, some of the most Irish cities in North America have decidedly non-Irish pronunciation.

Thanks for confirming that, Jamie. I thought that was the case, but wasn’t sure.

Do you happen to know anything about the tendency in places like Boston and Rhode Island to make a final A sound like a nice, clear rhotic -er? I mean, a word such as “idea” being regularly pronounced as “idear” and a name such as Lydia being regularly pronounced as “Lydier”. My brother-in-law does this all the time, and he’s not the only one in these parts who does it.

Notice that people with non-rhotic speech nonetheless pronounce the /r/ before a vowel:

“That’s my car. My car is over there.”
[ðæts mai ka: mai ka rɪz ovə ðɛ:]

What happens in some dialects is that the pronunciation of /r/ at the end of words that have it, when they come before a vowel, gets extended even to words that don’t end in an /r/. That gives you the so-called “intrusive R”.

“He went to Cuba. Cuba is not far from Florida.”
[hi wɛnt tə kyubə kyubə rɪz nat fa: frəm florɪɾə]

I think Amy had something else in mind. Any idear?

Could it be a minimal pair confusion? Distant memories of attending a linguistic seminar about structuralism popped up in the back of my head. I remember my prof saying “there’s always a bit of a cat in a hat and a bee in your knee.”

Here’s what I found on wikipedia

[color=darkblue]The clearest and most important example of Prague School structuralism lies in phonemics. Rather than simply compile a list of which sounds occur in a language, the Prague School sought to examine how they were related. They determined that the inventory of sounds in a language could be analyzed in terms of a series of contrasts. Thus in English the sounds /p/ and /b/ represent distinct phonemes because there are cases (minimal pairs) where the contrast between the two is the only difference between two distinct words (e.g. ‘pat’ and ‘bat’). Analyzing sounds in terms of contrastive features also opens up comparative scope - it makes clear, for instance, that the difficulty Japanese speakers have differentiating /r/ and /l/ in English is because these sounds are not contrastive in Japanese. While this approach is now standard in linguistics, it was revolutionary at the time. Phonology would become the paradigmatic basis for structuralism in a number of different forms.

The “-er instead of -a” tendency I mentioned doesn’t seem to have much to do with a pronunciation problem per se – it’s part of the accent.

Which is why in World War II, in the Pacific, English passwords tended to be things like “lollapalooza” or “Linda Lou”.

That knowledge is not new. People have had a folk sense of it for thousands of years. So the ancient Hebrews used the same kinds of passwords that Americans did in WWII:

Judges 12:

When I was teaching linguistics I told them that if Detroit went to war with Philadelphia, we Detroiters could make the password “fettucini”.

It’s part of the same thing. The intrusive /r/ becomes so common that people attach it to a word after non-high vowels even if there’s no vowel following it.

Why “fettucini”? How do you say it out there?

Speaking of Italian, have you ever noticed how Billy Joel pronounces “Brender and Eddie” in Scenes From An Italian Restaurant? :lol:

If opinion was a matter of selection I’d go with Amy so I could believe there was nothing wrong with my habitual mispronunciations.

We say [fɛdətʃini], but I’ve heard Philadelphians say [fɛdətʃəinəi]. When I talk with this accent, Pennsylvanians immediately recognize it as Philly, or so they say.

Oh, OK. I thought for a minute there you were suggesting that the people in Philly would insert an R somehow. :lol: