By September 15, 2015 4 Comments Read More →

What’s the big idear? Linking and Intrusive “r”

tumblr_inline_n1ctimuLDJ1qz5uc4In my previous post I talked about how American English is rhotic. That is, speakers of American English (well, most of them) pronounce their ‘r’s at the ends of words. I mentioned how Australian English (and New Zealand English, South African and British English) are non-rhotic, although we will pronounce word final /r/ in certain environments. That is, we pronounce /r/ that appears at the end of a word when the following word begins with a vowel sound.

Last week I happened to use this kind of /r/. I was on a walk and spotted some deer (such is the experience of living in Colorado). On my return I saw some people walking that same way and I told them, “There are some deer up ahead.”

In this instance I pronounced the /r/ at the end of deer because it was followed by a vowel sound.

This is called a Linking r.

If I said deer in isolation, it would sound more like: de-uh.

Author Steve Cuno emailed me with the following observation and questions:

I note that when words end without a hard consonant sound, the British often insert an r: “I saw a film” becomes “I soar a film” … “Greta Anderson” becomes “Gretteranderson.” Is this common? Is the r inserted for convenience? Is it conscious? Is its use a social class thing? Is there a rule, such as the French have when they insert a t in a-t-il marché?

In linguistics, there is a name for every phenomenon. This is called an Intrusive r.

Adding /r/ where it doesn’t belong may seem like a wild and crazy thing to do, but just like the Linking r, there is a rule to this phenomenon. The rule is that when a word ends in a schwa and the next word begins with a vowel, an /r/ may be inserted.

So, we’ll hear this /r/ in phrases such as:

Be at the pizzeriar_at 6pm.

South Korear_and North Korea.

They’re drinking vodkar_in the office.

Wikipedia gives an example of the name Paula Abdul sounding like Paular Abdul.

Steve is also correct in that there is a similar phenomenon in French, where /t/ and /l/ are often added to link sounds that would otherwise be difficult to pronounce. In french this is called liaison.

A-t-il l’heure? (Does he have the time?)

The Intrusive r has given rise to another phenomenon called the hypercorrective intrusive r. This is when an /r/ is added but there is no following vowel sound. For example:

I sawr her again last night.

I have no idear where we are!

This is mostly found in non-rhotic parts of the United States, such as parts of New York and Marthar‘s Vineyard.


Thanks to Steve for the idear for this article!

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Karen Stollznow

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist with a background in history and anthropology, and is the author of the best-selling book God Bless America. Her other titles include Hits & Mrs., Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic and Haunting America. Her forthcoming books include Missed Conceptions and Not What The Doctor Ordered.

4 Comments on "What’s the big idear? Linking and Intrusive “r”"

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  1. XaurreauX says:

    That should be “Mah-thah’s Vinyid.” Just trying to help.

  2. eldermusician says:

    My maternal grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch, and I was always amused to hear her say she was going “to do the warsh” and so on. And I never understood why the “r” was necessary in words such as that. But as for the intrusive /r/ at the end of the word, it seems to me that it keeps the speaker from having to make a separate movement of the diaphragm to expel the air necessary for the second vowel. To wit: in your example of “Be at the pizzeriar at…”, without the /r/, the speaker would need to use a breath emphasis on the “a” of “at”. That slows the pace of the words. Whereas, adding the /r/ keeps the whole sentence moving at the same speed. Or at least, that’s the way it seems to me. Does that make any sense? g

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