In 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!