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r-colored vowel: Wikis


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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 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. 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 (er), past tense indicative (le) as well as the middle syllables of compound words consist of 3 or more syllables, e.g. restaurant 'Gou Bu Li' (Goubuli -> Gourli) in Tianjin, 'Bu Zhi Dao' (Do not know) (Buzhidao -> Burdao).


Vocalic R in Sanskrit

The ancient Indian language Sanskrit possessed short and long versions of a vowel sound often referred to as "vocalic r".[1] 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.[1] The grammarian Pāṇini classified this vowel as retroflex[2] and its pronunciation is thought to have been a retroflex approximant [ɻ] in classical Sanskrit (c. 500 BC).Template:Fact Earlier grammarians classified its sound in the Vedic period as velar.[2] 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),[3] leading to forms such as "Krishna" for Kṛṣṇa and "Rigveda" for ṛgveda, a pronunciation that is also prevalent among contemporary pandits.[4] In the Southern Indo-Aryan language Sinhala, vocalic r in Sanskrit words is pronounced as [ur] or [ru], depending on the phonological context.

R-colored vowel

IPA – number 322
IPA – text ɚ
IPA – image File:Xsampa-at'.png
Entity ɚ
Kirshenbaum R
Sound sample

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.


English 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.Template:Fact Exceptions include many Irish singers, along with many performers of Country music.

Heavy rhotacization has also become prevalent in hip-hop music. The artist Flo Rida is an exaggerated example, evidenced by the emphasis on the r-coloring of the final vowels in lyrics such as "throw my hands in the ay-er" (/ˈʔeɪjɚ/) and "boots with the fur".

Speech disorders

In English, 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 either by manner or place of articulation;
  • It tends to be a later developing sound; and
  • Correct pronunciation is not dependent upon spelling.[5]

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

Other examples

In Mandarin Chinese, the rhotacized ending of some words is the prime way by which to distinguish speakers of Standard Mandarin such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shenyang, Harbin accents from those of other forms of Mandarin such as Sichuan. 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).

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.

In Czech the vocalic r is present in many common words and together with l as a nucleus forms the phonetically famous sentence Strč prst skrz krk! (Czech for "Stick a finger through your throat!"), seemingly without vowels.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Burrow, Thomas (2001). The Sanskrit Language (1st Indian ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 105. ISBN 8120817672. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Deshpande, Madhav M. (1993), "Genesis of Rgvedic Retroflexion", Sanskrit & Prakrit: Sociolinguistic Issues, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, pp. 178, ISBN 8120811364, 
  3. Cardona, George (2003), "Sanskrit", in Cardona, George; Jain, Dhanesh, The Indo-Aryan Languages, New York: Routledge, pp. 257, ISBN 0700711309, 
  4. Coulson, Michael; Richard F Gombrich, James Benson (2006). Sanskrit. Chicago: Contemporary Books. p. 5. ISBN 0071426663. 
  5. Curtis, J.F.& Hardy, J.C. (1959) A phonetic study of misarticulation of /r/. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 2 (3), 244-257.


See also


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