Date: Thu, 9 Oct 1997 22:42:39 -0500


Subject: Re: An R-full mess

Terry Irons writes

I told him that his

post-vocalic r's were tauto-syllabic, representing a CVC syllabic

structure (for the pronuncation of say, "car") whereas his classmates

were syllabifying the r, resulting in what is really a CVV syllabic


Dale Coyle Asks:

I'd like to pursue this. I've always thought "car" as CVC with /r/ as a

consonant works for Scots, or some other trilled or flapped varieties, but

for Am Eng. isn't /r/ always retroflexive and in fact not a real consonant at

all? Someone suggested it's a glide, but aren't glides really vowels in word

final position? The glide /w/ is the same as /u/ or /U/ in, for ex., "mow"

/mou/- the glide is generated when a vowel follows, e.g., in "mowing"

/'mowIng/. That is to say, "mow" has a diphthong. Similarly the

combinations heard in "ear, air, are, oar, ewer" are really diphthongs,

aren't they? We just don't ever call them that.

Unless the 'CVC' was intended as a notation for the underlying form. If

/r/ is a consonant PHONEME in initial position, would it then be a vowel

phoneme in post-vocalic position?

If a syllable with a vowel follows, some Americans have a linking [r] (kae

ri], whereas others have [kae[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]- i], where [AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]- is intended as hooked schwa,

while some will sometimes have the linking -r- and sometimes not. What

does this say about the underlying phoneme (or diaphoneme)?

Consonant means the air

flow is obstructed and I don't think there's any obstruction for Am. /r/--

maybe someone more up on phonetics can help here. So getting back to the

original post, I'd say we should distinguish between utterances with CV (my

own pronunciation of "car", with /ar/ as a diphthong, and CVV, where the

final V has its own syllable. I'm trying to think of a minimal pair-- maybe

"bar" (diphthong) and a person who says "Bah!" Bah-er where the fina "-er"

really is it's own syllable. But to call it CVC is perhaps misleading.

Here Dale is giving phonetic descriptions, i.e. descriptions of surface

manifestations of underlying phonemes.

The original post seems to have mixed phonemic and phonetic notation.

Whether in r-less or r-ful speech, description of the American /r/-[r] is

r-fully challenging.

AMERICAN PRONUNCIATION, which IS available now, doesn't answer Terry's

question directly but does discuss some things he doesn't ask about.