R-colored vowel

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Not to be confused with Rhotacism.
R-colored vowel
IPA number 322 + 419
Entity (decimal) ɚ
Unicode (hex) U+025A
Kirshenbaum R
Spectrogram of [ə] and its rhotacized counterpart [ɚ]

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In phonetics, an r-colored or rhotic vowel (also called a 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 In the IPA, an r-colored vowel is indicated by a hook diacritic ( ˞) placed to the right of the regular symbol for the vowel. For example, the IPA symbol for schwa is ə, while the IPA symbol for an r-colored schwa is ɚ.

R-colored vowels are rare, occurring in less than one percent of the languages of the world:1 however they occur in two of the most widely spoken varieties: North American English and Mandarin Chinese, as well as Quebec French. In North American English, they are found in words such as butter, nurse and, for some speakers, start. They also occur in some variants of Brazilian Portuguese,234 and of Danish (some Jutlandic dialects).


In English

The r-colored vowels of General American can be written with "vowel-r" digraphs:5

Stressed [ɝ] (more formal) or [ɚ] (more accurate): hearse, assert, mirth, work, turkey, myrtle
Unstressed [ɚ]: standard, dinner, Lincolnshire, or, measure, martyr
Stressed [ɑ˞]: start, car
Stressed [ɔ˞]: north, war

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 [ɑɚ] or [ɑɹ], rather than the unitary symbol [ɑ˞].5

In singing

Dropping or weakening of r-colored vowels when singing has traditionally been nearly universal and a standard part of vocal training, but there are now numerous exceptions, including many Irish singers and many performers of country music; though this is not universal. In certain particular cases, a vowel + /r/ is pronounced instead as two syllables: a non-rhotic vowel followed by a syllabic /r/.

In Mandarin Chinese

Main article: erhua

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, -r suffix (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ) is added to indicate some meaning changes. If the word ends in a nasal velar (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 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 (pinyin: ér) and the perfective aspect particle (Chinese: ; pinyin: le). This also occurs in the middle syllables of compound words consisting of 3 or more syllables. For example, the famous restaurant Go Believe (狗不理) in Tianjin is pronounced as 'Gourbli' (Gǒu(r)bùGǒurblǐ). 'Do not know' (不知道 bùzhīdào) is pronounced as 'burdao' (bù(r)zhīdàobùrdào). The street Dazhalan (大栅栏) in Beijing is pronounced as 'Da-shi-lar' (Dàshànn(r)Dàshílàr).

In Quebec French

In Quebec French, the vowel /œ̃/ is generally pronounced [œ̃˞] and the r-colored vowels are also pronounced in loan words. For example, the word hamburger can be pronounced [ambɚɡɚ], the word soccer can be pronounced [sɒkɚ] 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 [be] "mouth", slightly rhotacized ("half retroflexed") [be˞] "bangle", and fully rhotacized ("fully retroflexed") [be˞˞] "crop".6

The Algic language Yurok illustrates rhotic vowel harmony. The non-high vowels /a/, /e/, and /o/ may become /ɚ/ in a word that has /ɚ/. For example, the root /nahks-/ 'three' becomes /nɚhks-/ in the word /nɚhksɚʔɚjɬ/ 'three (animals or birds)'.7

The Caipira dialect of Brazilian Portuguese expresses some /r/ phonemes as an allophone [ɚ] in some cases where more standard dialects would use [ʁ] or [ɾ].

See also


  1. ^ a b c Ladefoged, Peter; Ian Maddieson (1996). The sounds of the world's languages. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 313. ISBN 0-631-19815-6. 
  2. ^ (Portuguese) 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. ^ (Portuguese) 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. ^ (Portuguese) Callou, Dinah. Leite, Yonne. "Iniciação à Fonética e à Fonologia". Jorge Zahar Editora 2001, p. 24
  5. ^ a b Clark, John Ellery; Colin Yallop; Janet Fletcher (2007). An introduction to phonetics and phonology (third ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell. p. 66. ISBN 1-4051-3083-0. 
  6. ^ http://www.phonetics.ucla.edu/appendix/languages/badaga/badaga.html
  7. ^ http://linguistics.berkeley.edu/~survey/languages/yurok.php


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