rhotic miscellany (was: Advanced English + Babel text)
|From:||Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Thursday, November 4, 2004, 6:58|
On Wednesday, November 3, 2004, at 05:11 , Sally Caves wrote:
> I've never heard a uvular trill [R\] among francophones;
I have. The priest - he was a youngish man - who married my son &
daughter-in-law (she's French) almost a dozen years back had a most
vigorous uvular trill. It was, of course, used by Edith Piaff (je ne
regrette rien....) - but it is very rare now and usually considered the
mark of speakers even more antique than me :)
Actually my elder grandson (who is more or less bilingual) used to have a
delightful uvular trill, but his 'French R' has now become the familiar
uvular approximant (there's practically no friction with the modern urban
French R). I'm told - tho I don't know how true this is - that this is
typical of young children: to start with trilling the uvular but gradually
to lose the trill.
> rather, the
> fricative [R] or the unvoiced fricative /x/, especially after "t": "trois,
> etc. The uvular trills I'm familiar with occur in Hebrew (in fact I was
> just practicing it with a group of Israelis the other night), and among
> certain German speakers.
You also find it, as I expect you know, among certain north Walian
> Many Germans, I gather, don't trill, but merely
> fricatize the "r";
I gather this is so. At one time the trilled lingual r was also widespread.
That was the /r/ used by Hitler, as you hear on ancient newsreels. It may
be - I don't know - that this accounts for its demise in the last half
> but I have a teasing friend who tells me that I sound
> French when I pronounce German. That may well be; my training has been
> mostly in French and Spanish.
> The history of |r| and its developments in not only France but Germany and
> England is an interesting and I think quite complex one. Maybe somebody
> else, here, can unpack it. As I understand it, and I may be wrong, /R/ in
> French was a fairly recent development--seventeenth/eighteenth century--
This is true. There is no real doubt that the Vulgar Latin /r/ was the
lingual trill which is still retained in modern Italian. There is no
reason to suppose that it was any different in france. Certainly the
change of intervocalic and, sometimes, final /r/ to /z/ in the 16th & 17th
centuries (hence _chaire_ --> chaise, and the feminine of -eur being -euse
and the dropping of -r so often in words ending in -er) is clear testimony
of its linguo-dental nature. The uvular R could not have become general
till the 18th century and did not, apparently, become general in Parisian
speech till the beginning of the 19th century. Once it had become
fashionable in Parisian speech it spread not only to the rest of northern
France but also into the Netherlands and into Germany.
> until then the common way to pronounce it was as a flap, as in Spanish,
> or a
> front trill. I know from studying Old French that it was presumed to be
> flapped or trilled.
More likely trilled - tho we can't rule out the flap occurring also. That'
s one of those things that we'd probably need time-travel to resolve :)
Certainly the lingually trilled /r/ is still alive in the south of France,
especially in rural areas.
> But the change, I have read, came about with changes in
> England and Germany, especially the dropping of final /r/ in England. Is
> this true?
I doubt very much that the dropping of final -r in English has anything to
do with French. The dropping of final -r in the -er infinitives and words
ending in -ier is comparatively recent in French and results from the
sound having first become [z] as explained above. In the case of English
it is almost certainly the "de-retroflexion" of "de-rhotacization" of
rhotacized (or reflexive) vowels, the r-colored vowels typical of American
English and still common in rural dialects of southern England & the
English Midlands as well as urban dialects of south west England.
Whether something similar happened in German, I do not know. I am not
aware of rhotacized vowels in any German dialects, but they may occur.
Certainly I know from personal experience that southern Germans don't
pronounce syllable final /r/ as a consonant but tend to produce either
long low vowels or centering diphthongs similar to those found in the RP
of south-east England. I've always assumed these were more recent
developments and resulted from the weakening of the already weak uvular
approximant. But I may well be wrong. Can any of German conlangers tell
us whether German once had rhotacized vowels as in American English and
the English of rural southern England?
> BTW, how do you express in Sampa IPA all these different pronunciations of
We use a modified form of X-SAMPA known as CXS (Conlang X-SAMPA :)
[r] = apical lingual trill
 = linguo-dental tap or flap (Spanish single /r/)
[r`] = retroflex tap
[r\] = the dental/alveolar approximant ("English /r/")
[R\] = uvular trill
[R] = uvular approximant and/or voiced uvular fricative
[X[ = voiceless uvular fricative
The symbol ` is used to show rhotacized or r-colored vowels: [a`], [@`],
> In Teonaht, |r| is a retroflex tap. You curl the tongue back in the
> mouth and bring it forward across the back part of the alveolar ridge.[r`] :)
> anybody know of a natural language that does this?
Hindi/Urdu has both the retroflex flap [r`] as well as the dental flap 
. I believe it is quite common in the languages of the Indian subcontinent.
Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight,
which is not so much a twilight of the gods
as of the reason." [JRRT, "English and Welsh" ]