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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second Rhoticity, the pronunciation of R. One of the major differences between accents of English lies in the pronunciation of R. Some native English speakers are ‘rhotic’. This means that they pronounce R everywhere it is written. Thus, rhotic speakers pronounce R in all of these words. “Right”, ‘“far”, “heart”, “are”, and “far and away”. Other native speakers of English only pronounce R before a vowel. In which of the words does R occur before a vowel?

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 seconds That’s right. R occurs before a vowel in A and E. E is an example of what we call ‘linking R’, where R, in effect, links a word to a following word that starts with a vowel again. So in that sense, R occurs before a vowel. However, non-rhotic speakers do not pronounce R in B and C where R occurs following a vowel, at the end of a word, or before a consonant. They say “far” and “heart”. Note that in D, R also occurs at the end of the word because the last vowel letter, E, is silent. Hence, R is not pronounced in a ‘non-rhotic’ accent. “are”.

Skip to 1 minute and 21 seconds When I tell you that one of the pronunciations is older than the other, which do you think is the oldest form? The rhotic pronunciation with R or the non-rhotic pronunciation without R? That’s right. The rhotic pronunciation is the oldest. We know this from spelling. If R was originally not pronounced, why would a word like “heart” be written with R? As a rule of thumb, you can assume that originally, in the history of English, words were much more pronounced in the way that they are written. We also have evidence for rhotic pronunciation being the oldest form from the current distribution of rhotic and non-rhotic accents within the UK. Where in the UK do you think R currently is and isn’t pronounced?

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 seconds That’s right. Rhotic areas are the Celtic countries, Scotland and Ireland, as well as, to some extent, the southwest of England. The remainder of the UK is non-rhotic. It is thought that speakers first lost their Rs in the southeast of England in the 18th century, and that this innovation subsequently spread as a way through the country, except for these outer areas. The standard British English accent is a non-rhotic accent. A non-rhotic accent is illustrated in this BBC report on a particular heart condition. See whether you can hear R not being pronounced in the word “heart”, and in the other words where R occurs postvocalically.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 seconds Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common forms of abnormal heart rhythm, affecting around a million people in the UK. The HEART starts to beat at an irregular and sometimes abnormally fast rate. It can lead to dizziness, shortness of breath, and tiredness, as well as more serious complications such as strokes or heart attacks.

Skip to 3 minutes and 22 seconds Rhoticity is one of the major features in respect of which dialects differ. Do you know if accents in the northern hemisphere like the US and Canada are rhotic or non-rhotic? And what about accents in the southern hemisphere such as Australia and New Zealand?

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds That’s right. Speakers in the northern hemisphere are rhotic, and speakers in the southern hemisphere are non-rhotic. Given that R was lost in the southeast of England from the 18th century, linguists think that the division derives from the respective time of settlement. Settlement of the northern hemisphere took off from the 17th century, thus at a time when the British settlers still had their Rs, while the southern hemisphere was settled later, from the 19th century onwards when R was already on the way out.

Skip to 4 minutes and 14 seconds A rhotic accent is illustrated in this video that reports on Barbara Bush, the wife of one of the former US presidents, George Bush Sr. See whether you can hear that R is pronounced in the word “heart”, and in the other words where R occurs postvocalically.

Skip to 4 minutes and 35 seconds A family spokesman says former First Lady Barbara Bush had successful open HEART surgery Wednesday.

Skip to 4 minutes and 45 seconds Rhoticity has not been found to be a factor in the intelligibility of spoken English. However, it is said that non-native speakers find rhotic accents easier to understand because many other native languages are rhotic. Therefore, you can be rhotic when you aim to have an American-type or more neutral or international or personal kind of English accent, but you could try to become non-rhotic when you wish to develop a British English-type accent.

The notion of rhoticity explained

Rhoticity is one of the major English accent features. This video explains the feature of rhoticity. What is rhoticity? How did the feature develop? Which English accents in the world are rhotic and which are non-rhotic? After having watched the video, you can decide whether you’d like to have a rhotic or non-rhotic accent.

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English Pronunciation in a Global World

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam