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R-colored vowel: Wikis


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IPA – number 322
IPA – text ɚ
IPA – image {{{imagesize}}}
Entity ɚ
Kirshenbaum R
About this sound Sound sample
Spectrogram of [ə] and its rhotacized counterpart [ɚ].About this sound listen

In phonetics, vocalic r refers to the phenomenon of a rhotic segment such as [r] or [ɹ] occurring as the syllable nucleus. This is a feature of a number of Slavic languages such as Czech, Macedonian and Serbo-Croatian, as well as some western Bulgarian and eastern Slovene (Stirian) dialects. It also appears in languages like English and Mandarin Chinese, where it occurs as an r-colored vowel, a vowel whose distinctive feature is a low third formant.

In most rhotic accents of English such as General American, vocalic r occurs in words like butter and church.

A vowel may have either the tip or blade of the tongue turned up during at least part of the articulation of the vowel (a retroflex articulation) or with the tip of the tongue down and the back of the tongue bunched. Both articulations produce basically the same auditory effect, a lowering in frequency of the third formant. Although they are rarely attested, they occur in some non-standard varieties of Dutch and in a number of rhotic accents of English like General American. The English vowel may be analyzed phonemically as an underlying /ər/ rather than a syllabic consonant.




In English

Vocalic r

A few dialects of English, particularly General American and Ulster English, contain a vocalic R sound, equivalent to the consonantal R sound [ɹ].[citation needed] In Ulster English, both long and short versions exist, conditioned by the Scots Vowel Length Rule:

This is a little different from rhotacization described below ([wɝk], [kɝv] as opposed to non-rhotic [wɜːk], [kɜːv]), as [ɹ̩] is not a rhotic vowel or even a vowel, but may be treated as a similar phenomenon in this case, because this [ɹ̩] is phonemically identical to [ɝ], just realized differently. In general, however, a syllabic r (a vocalic r) and a rhotic vowel are different concepts.

In spelling

The r-colored vowels of General American are written with vowel-r digraphs. Any vowel can be used:

Stressed [ɝ]: hearse, assert, mirth, work, turkey, myrtle
Unstressed [ɚ]: standard, dinner, Lincolnshire, editor, measure, martyr

An example of an r-colored vowel written as a vowel following "r" can be found in the word iron [ˈaɪɚn].

In singing

Many vocalists who would normally speak English with r-colored vowels will replace them with their non-rhotic equivalents when singing in English.[citation needed] This phenomenon has traditionally been nearly universal and a standard part of vocal training, but there are now numerous exceptions, including many Irish singers and many performers of Country music in particular and, to a lesser extent, recently-arising genres of music in general. The artist Flo Rida is an exaggerated example of heavy rhotacization in hip-hop music, evidenced by the emphasis on the r-coloring of the final vowels in lyrics such as "throw my hands in the air" ([ˈʔeɪjɹ̩]) and "boots with the fur".[citation needed] In this case, a vowel + r is pronounced as two syllables, a non-rhotic vowel followed by a syllabic r.

Speech disorders

In English, the pronunciation of /r/ is difficult, and it is one of the most frequently misproduced sounds for a number of reasons including:

  • It can be either consonantal or vocalic;
  • There is no single defined way to produce the sound by either manner or place of articulation;
  • It tends to be a later-developed sound; and
  • Correct pronunciation is not dependent upon spelling.[1]

Vocalic /r/ evaluation and treatment is most commonly made by a speech-language pathologist.

In Chinese

In Mandarin Chinese, the rhotacized ending of some words is the prime way by which to distinguish speakers of Standard Mandarin from those of other forms of Mandarin in China. Mandarin speakers call this phenomenon Erhua. In many words, -r suffix is added to indicate some meaning changes. In simplified written Chinese, the change is indicated with the suffix 儿. (If the word ends in a nasal, the final consonant is lost and the vowel becomes nasalized if what is lost is a nasal velar (ng.) Major cities that have this form of rhotacized ending include Beijing, Tianjin, Tangshan, Shenyang, Changchun, Jilin, Harbin, and Qiqihar. This Erhua has since spreaded to other non-Standard Mandarin speaking provincial capitals, such as Shijiazhong, Jinan, Xian, Chongqin, and Chendu.

In rhotic accents of Standard Mandarin Chinese such as accents in cities Beijing, Tianjin, most of Hebei province (e.g. Tangshan, Baoding, Chengde), Eastern Inner Mongolia (e.g. Chifeng, Hailar), and the three Northeastern provinces, vocalic r occurs as a diminutive endings to nouns (simplified Chinese: traditional Chinese: pinyin: ér) and the past tense indicative (Chinese: pinyin: le). This also occurs in the middle syllables of compound words consisting of 3 or more syllables. For example, the famous restaurant 'Gou Bu Li' (狗不理) in Tianjin is pronounced as 'Gourbli' (Gǒubùlǐ -> Gǒurblǐ). 'Do not know' 不知道 (Bu Zhi Dao) is pronounced as 'Burdao' (Bùzhīdào -> Bùrdào). The street 'Da Shan Lan' (大栅栏) is pronounced as 'Da Shi Lar' (Dàshànlàn -> Dàshílàr).

Other examples

In the 1930s the Dravidian language Badaga had two degrees of rhoticity among all five of its vowels, but few speakers maintain the distinction today, and then only in one or two vowels. An example is non-rhotic [be] "mouth", slightly rhotacized ("half retroflexed") [be˞] "bangle", and fully rhotacized ("fully retroflexed") [be˞˞] "crop".[citation needed]

Vocalic r (Syllabic r)

In Sanskrit

The ancient Indian language Sanskrit possessed short and long versions of a vowel sound often referred to as "vocalic r".[2] It is represented in Devanagari by ऋ (short form) and ॠ (long form), and in IAST transliteration by (short form) and (long form), and is thought to correspond to original vocalic "l" or "r" in Proto-Indo-European.[2] The grammarian Pāṇini classified this vowel as retroflex[3] and its pronunciation is thought to have been a retroflex approximant [ɻ] in classical Sanskrit (c. 500 BC).[citation needed] Earlier grammarians classified its sound in the Vedic period as velar.[3] In Middle Indo-Aryan languages, the sound developed into a short vowel, usually /i/, but sometimes /a/ or /u/ (the latter sound especially when adjacent to a labial consonant).

However, when Sanskrit words containing this sound are borrowed into modern Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi or Nepali its pronunciation changes to [ɾɪ] (short form) or [ɾiː] (long form),[4] leading to forms such as "Krishna" for Kṛṣṇa and "Rigveda" for ṛgveda, a pronunciation that is also prevalent among contemporary pandits.[5] In the Southern Indo-Aryan language Sinhala, vocalic r in Sanskrit words is pronounced as [ur] or [ru], depending on the phonological context.

In Czech and Slovak

In Czech and Slovak, the syllabic r is present in many common words. Strč prst skrz krk! (Czech and Slovak for “Stick a finger through your throat!”) is a sentence with no obvious vowels, where each of the four r’s is syllabic (the most sonorant segment of a syllable), or in other words, vocalic (acting as a vowel).


  1. ^ Curtis, J.F.& Hardy, J.C. (1959) A phonetic study of misarticulation of /r/. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 2 (3), 244-257.
  2. ^ a b Burrow, Thomas (2001). The Sanskrit Language (1st Indian ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 105. ISBN 8120817672. 
  3. ^ a b Deshpande, Madhav M. (1993), "Genesis of Rgvedic Retroflexion", Sanskrit & Prakrit: Sociolinguistic Issues, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, pp. 178, ISBN 8120811364, 
  4. ^ Cardona, George (2003), "Sanskrit", in Cardona, George; Jain, Dhanesh, The Indo-Aryan Languages, New York: Routledge, pp. 257, ISBN 0700711309, 
  5. ^ Coulson, Michael; Richard F Gombrich, James Benson (2006). Sanskrit. Chicago: Contemporary Books. p. 5. ISBN 0071426663. 


  • Aungst, L.F. & Frick, J.V. (1964) Auditory discrimination ability and consistency of articulation of /r/. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 29, 76-85.
  • Curtis, J.F.& Hardy, J.C. (1959) A phonetic study of misarticulation of /r/. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 2 (3), 244-257.
  • Ristuccia, Christine. (2002) 'Phonologic strategy for /r/ remediation.' Advance for Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists, 39, 21.
  • Ristuccia, C.L. , Gilbert, D.W. & Ristuccia, J.E. (2005). The Entire World of R Book of Elicitation Techniques. Tybee Island, GA: 'Say It Right'. ISBN 0-9760490-7-4. 

See also


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