R-colored vowel

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Template:Short description Template:Use American English Template:Infobox IPA

Spectrogram of Template:IPA and its rhotacized counterpart Template:IPA


In phonetics, an r-colored or rhotic vowel (also called a retroflex vowel, vocalic r, or a rhotacized vowel) is a vowel that is modified in a way that results in a lowering in frequency of the third formant.[1] R-colored vowels can be articulated in various ways: the tip or blade of the tongue may be turned up during at least part of the articulation of the vowel (a retroflex articulation) or the back of the tongue may be bunched. In addition, the vocal tract may often be constricted in the region of the epiglottis.[1]

R-colored vowels are exceedingly rare, occurring in less than one percent of the languages of the world.[1] However, they occur in two of the most widely spoken languages: North American English and Mandarin Chinese. In North American English, they are found in words such as butter, nurse and, for some speakers, start. They also occur in Quebec French, some varieties of Brazilian Portuguese,[2][3][4] some Jutlandic dialects of Danish, as well as in a few Indigenous languages of the Americas and of Asia, including Serrano and Yurok in the United States, Luobohe Miao in China, and Badaga in India.


In the IPA, an r-colored vowel is indicated by a hook diacritic (Template:IPA) placed to the right of the regular symbol for the vowel. For example, the IPA symbol for schwa is Template:IPA, while the IPA symbol for an r-colored schwa is Template:IPA. This diacritic is the hook of Template:IPA, a symbol constructed by John Samuel Kenyon along with Template:IPA by adding the retroflex hook (right hook) to Template:IPA and Template:IPA.[5] Both Template:IPA and Template:IPA were proposed as IPA symbols by editors of the American Speech in 1939 to distinguish it from Template:IPA.[6]

The IPA adopted several ways to transcribe r-colored vowels in its 1947 chart: the turned r Template:IPA; the superscript turned r Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA, etc.; the retroflex hook Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA, etc.;[7] and added Template:IPA as a variant of Template:IPA in its 1951 chart.[8] In 1976 the retroflex hook was dropped due to insufficient usage.[9] In 1989, after the Kiel Convention, the hook of Template:IPA and Template:IPA was adopted as a diacritic placed on the right side of the vowel symbol for r-colored vowels, e.g. [ɛ˞ o˞ ɔ˞].[10] The use of the superscript turned r (Template:IPA) is still commonly seen.



R-colored vowels are found in most rhotic forms of English, including General American and Irish English. The r-colored vowels of General American can be written with "vowel-r" digraphs:[11]

In words such as start, many speakers have r-coloring only in the coda of the vowel, rather than as a simultaneous articulation modifying the whole duration. This can be represented in IPA by using a succession of two symbols such as Template:IPA or Template:IPA, rather than the unitary symbol Template:IPA.[11]


In European classical singing, dropping or weakening of r-colored vowels has been nearly universal and is a standard part of classical vocal training. However, there have always been other singing styles in which r-colored vowels are given their full emphasis, including traditional Irish singing styles and those of many performers of country music.[citation needed] In certain particular cases, a vowel + /r/ is pronounced instead as two syllables: a non-rhotic vowel followed by a syllabic /r/.[citation needed]

Mandarin Chinese

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In Mandarin, the rhotacized ending of some words is the prime way by which to distinguish speakers of Standard Northern Mandarin (Beijing Mandarin) and Southwestern Mandarin from those of other forms of Mandarin in China. Mandarin speakers call this phenomenon erhua. In many words, the -r suffix (Template:Zh) is added to indicate some meaning changes. If the word ends in a velar nasal (ng), the final consonant is lost and the vowel becomes nasalized. Major cities that have this form of rhotacized ending include Beijing, Tianjin, Tangshan, Shenyang, Changchun, Jilin, Harbin, and Qiqihar. This erhua has since spread to other provincial capitals not home to Standard Mandarin, such as Shijiazhuang, Jinan, Xian, Chongqing, and Chengdu.

In rhotic accents of Standard Mandarin, such as those from Beijing, Tianjin, most of the Hebei province (e.g. Tangshan, Baoding, Chengde), eastern Inner Mongolia (e.g. Chifeng, Hailar), and in the Northeast, vocalic r occurs as a diminutive marker of nouns (Template:Zh) and the perfective aspect particle (Template:Zh). This also occurs in the middle syllables of compound words consisting of three or more syllables. For example, the name of the famous restaurant Go Believe (狗不理) in Tianjin is pronounced as 'Gourbli' (Gǒu(r)bùGǒurblǐ). The name of the street Dazhalan (大栅栏) in Beijing is pronounced as 'Da-shi-lar' (Dàshànn(r)Dàshílàr).

Quebec French

In Quebec French, the vowel Template:IPA is generally pronounced Template:IPA and the r-colored vowels are also pronounced in loan words.[citation needed] For example, the word hamburger can be pronounced Template:IPA, the word soccer can be pronounced Template:IPA etc.

Other examples

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 Template:IPA "mouth", slightly rhotacized ("half retroflexed") Template:IPA "bangle", and fully rhotacized ("fully retroflexed") Template:IPA "crop".[12]

The Algic language Yurok illustrated rhotic vowel harmony. The non-high vowels Template:IPA, Template:IPA and Template:IPA could become Template:IPA in a word that has Template:IPA. For example, the root Template:IPA 'three' became Template:IPA in the word Template:IPA 'three (animals or birds)'.[13]

Luobohe Miao also contains Template:IPA.[14]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Peter Ladefoged; Ian Maddieson (1996). The sounds of the world's languages. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 313. ISBN 0-631-19815-6. 
  2. Template:In lang Acoustic-phonetic characteristics of the Brazilian Portuguese's retroflex /r/: data from respondents in Pato Branco, Paraná. Irineu da Silva Ferraz. Pages 19–21
  3. Template:In lang Syllable coda /r/ in the "capital" of the Paulista hinterland: sociolinguistic analysis. Cândida Mara Britto LEITE. Page 111 (page 2 in the attached PDF)
  4. Template:In lang Callou, Dinah. Leite, Yonne. "Iniciação à Fonética e à Fonologia". Jorge Zahar Editora 2001, p. 24
  5. John Samuel Kenyon (1935). American pronunciation: a textbook of phonetics for students of English. G. Wahr. p. 191. 
  6. "A Petition". American Speech. Duke University Press. 14 (3): 206–208. October 1939. doi:10.2307/451421. 
  7. "The International Phonetic Alphabet (revised to 1947)". Le Maître Phonétique (87). January 1947. 
  8. "The International Phonetic Alphabet (revised to 1951)". Le Maître Phonétique (97). January 1952. 
  9. J. C. W. (July 1976). "The Association’s Alphabet". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 6 (1): 2‒3. doi:10.1017/S0025100300001420. 
  10. International Phonetic Association (1989). "Report on the 1989 Kiel Convention". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 19 (1): 67–80. doi:10.1017/S0025100300003868. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 John Ellery Clark; Colin Yallop; Janet Fletcher (2007). An introduction to phonetics and phonology (third ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell. p. 66. ISBN 1-4051-3083-0. 
  12. http://www.phonetics.ucla.edu/appendix/languages/badaga/badaga.html
  13. "Yurok – Survey of California and Other Indian Languages". linguistics.berkeley.edu. 
  14. "Luobohe Miao language". Omniglot.com. 

Further reading

  • L. F. Aungst; J. V. Frick (1964). "Auditory discrimination ability and consistency of articulation of /r/". Journal of Speech and Hearing Research. 29: 76–85. 
  • J. F. Curtis; J. C. Hardy (1959). "A phonetic study of misarticulation of /r/". Journal of Speech and Hearing Research. 2 (3): 244–257. 
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  • C. L. Ristuccia; D. W. Gilbert; J. E. Ristuccia (2005). The Entire World of R Book of Elicitation Techniques. Tybee Island, GA: 'Say It Right'. ISBN 0-9760490-7-4. 

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