LINGUIST List 12.1701

Mon Jul 2 2001

Sum: Phonological Link Betweeen /a/ and /r/

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  1. darlene lacharite, Phonological Link Betweeen /a/ and /r/

Message 1: Phonological Link Betweeen /a/ and /r/

Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2001 14:51:23 -0400
From: darlene lacharite <>
Subject: Phonological Link Betweeen /a/ and /r/

Dear Linguists, a couple of weeks ago I posted the following question on
the Linguist List:

We are working on loanword adaptation and have come across phenomena in a
few languages that suggest an interaction between /a/ and /r/. Can anyone
tell us of language internal phenomena that suggest a phonological link
between these two sounds?

I would like to thank everyone who responded to my question. I received
several promising leads. For the information of anyone else who may be
interested in this topic, I am including the responses received in this

Thanks again, Darlene LaCharit�, Universit� Laval

Replies received:

1. 	The US [r] should in theory be available to Taiwan students for
use in English, since standard Mandarin has almost the exact same sound
[r] or [ar]. However, (1) this sound has been dropped in Taiwan Mandarin
from many contexts where it was optional or semi-optional to start out
with, and in the remaining ones it is often replaced with [] (something
close to a schwa). Overdoing the [r] in Mandarin would make one sound
rather put-on and uncool, and it's possible this reticence is transferred
to English. (2) RP used to be the standard for ESL in Taiwan before the
60s, and the transition was never fully made to US English, even though
everybody acts as though what they're using is US English; so postvocalic
[r]s tend to be ignored, by teachers and then by their students. Thus you
end up with [a:] and [pa:k] for _are_ and _park_, and so on. I don't know
if this is what you were after, but replacement of [r] with [a] is
definitely a problem in Taiwan ESL.

				Karen Steffen Chung
				National Taiwan University

2. Bonjour, Peut-�tre pas entre /r/ et le segment /a/, mais entre /r/ et
l'�l�ment "A" ou le trait [bas], il y a au moins l'exemple du fran�ais, o�
les voyelles moyennes se r�alisent [E] et [O] (ouverts) en /CVr/ ; et ceci
est vrai m�me lorsque /r/ est une coronale, ce qui exclut toute
assimilation de pharyngalit�. On a des choses du m�me type en danois, je

 Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho 320, rue des Pyr�n�es 75020 Paris France
Tel./fax : 01 43 66 95 24 (If calling from outside France, please replace
the prefix '0' with the country number '33'.)
Departement de linguistique Faculte des Sciences Humaines et Sociales -
Sorbonne Universite Rene Descartes - Paris V CNRS : ESA 7018, GDR 1954

3. From: "Antony Green" <>

In German, syllable-final /r/ is realized as a kind of low glide,
usually transcribed with the IPA symbol that looks like a typewritten
"a" turned upside down. See e.g. Richard Wiese, _The Phonology of
German_ (Oxford Univ. Press 1996), especially pp. 252 ff.

4. From: Theo Vennemann <>

I wrote on the lowering effect of /r/ on vowels (type lat.
_mercatus_, engl. _market_) in _Language_ 1972 ("Phonetic detail in

The lowering effect of /r/ is not restricted to r-sounds of a
particular phonetic varieties. E.g., both dental and uvular varieties
lower adjacent vowels.

In some varieties of German, nuclear (unstressed) /r/ becomes /a/,
e.g. Standard German /bEssr/, Berlin German /bEssa/ 'better'. (Note:
/E/ for the open e-vowel, /r/ for nuclear, "syllabic" /r/.)

Theo Vennemann.
18 June 2001

5. From: Philippe Mennecier <>

 J'ai soulev� ce probl�me � propos des affinit�s entre /a/ et l'uvulaire
spirante nasale /N/ en tunumiisut. Cf. Mennecier, Philippe (1995). Le
tunumiisut, dialecte inuit du Groenland oriental. Collection linguistique,
78, publi�e par la Soci�t� de Linguistique de Paris, Klincksieck, Paris:
605 p. Cordialement, Ph. Mennecier

6. From: Floricic Franck <>
Organization: ERSS - CNRS & Universit� Toulouse le Mirail

Chere Madame,
Je ne sais pas si la chose est veritablement pertinente a la question
que vous avez posee sur la linguistlist, mais je voulais vous signaler
qu'en Sarde, [r] est en debut de mot trait� comme une geminee. Or, cela
declenche l'insertion d'une voyelle epenthetique qui est justement [a]:
* [r:Oza] > [a'r:Oza] (rose)
* [r:ik:u] > [a'r:ik:u] (riche)
Je vous signale les phenomenes de memoire, mais vous trouverez des
choses plus precises dans:
Bolognesi R. (1998), The Phonology of Campidanian Sardinian, HIL
Dissertation 38, Dordrecht
Molinu L. (1997), La Syllabe en Sarde. These de l'Universite de Grenoble
Contini M. (1987), Etude de Geographie phonetique et de Phonetique
Instrumentale du Sarde. 2 Vol., Ed. Dell'Orso, Alessandria

Bien a vous,
Franck Floricic

7. From: Guido Mensching <>

in German, wod-final, unstressed -er becomes a neutral vowel (more open
than a shwa, i.e. [a]-like), that is pronounced [a] in some dialects; so
we have germ. Meister pronounved as something like ['maista].

In South-Sardinian (and in some other Romance varieties, I think), Latin
words beginning with R get a prothetic [a]: RIVUM > arri(v)u, ROTAM >
arroda. Of course, here, the R itself does not turn into an A.

8. From: "Conrad Johansson" <>

 In swedish the plural is marked by /r/ in nouns and by /a/ in adjectives.

9. From: Joost Kremers <>

although i am not a phonologist, you may want to take a look at dutch. the r
in dutch is pronounced in a variety of ways, varying from an alveolair trill,
to a uvular trill, some semiconsonant resembling a dutch /j/, and sometimes
it even sounds vocalic. i happen to know that there was a mini conference on
the pronunciation of the dutch r at Nijmegen University last year. i don't
know if the conference produced any publications, but i guess Carlos
Gussenhoven (, who is a professor of phonology at
our university, should know more about this.

i also seem to remember from my high-school days that there were some r/a
alternations in classical greek, but i'm not sure about this.

Joost Kremers, M.A.

University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands
Department of Languages and Cultures of the Middle-East

PO Box 9103
6500 HD Nijmegen
tel: + 32 24 3612996
fax: + 32 24 3611972

10. From: Dr Stefan Ploch <>

I am a phonologist with all sorts of backgrounds. The theory I favour most
is Government Phonology (GP). In (revised) Element Theory (ET), the theory
within GP that deals with melody, there exist a number of versions. The one
favoured by Jonathan Kaye and myself supports the view that the R-element
(responsible for coronals, and which many GPists still subscribe to) and
the A-element (backness/lowness in vowels) should be merged into one and
the same element, (new) A. The evidence usually cited in favour of such a
view is (a) English 'law[r]and order', 'the sofa[r] is' etc., i.e., /r/ as
hiatus breaker where there is no evidence for postulating underlying /r/
and other hiatus breakers after other vowels in the same variety (the 'bee
[j ]is', *'the bee[r] is', which means something different), and the
lowering of short vowels preceding /r/ in (certain varieties of) German.
Note, both the vowel in 'law' and the final vowel in 'sofa' contain an
A-element in Element Theory. So, this version of Element Theory made the
claim that there is a link between /a/ and /r/ as early as 1992/1993. My
M.A. dissertation of the lowering of vowels in Augsburg Swabian (a variety
of German spoken in the city of Augsburg, which is the capital of the
Swabian part of the federal state of Bavaria in the South of Germany) is
from 1993. The claim to merge R and A, is from Kaye. Kaye has been teaching
that coronals contain an A-element since ca. 1992/1993. I myself found the
supporting evidence from Augsburg Swabian and certain other varieties of

If you want to know more, let me know. Please, refer to Kaye and myself if
you publish on this topic.

Dr. Stefan Ploch
Dept. of Linguistics
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Private Bag 3
Wits 2050
South Africa

Tel.: 	+27 (0)11 717-4183
Secr.: 	+27 (0)11 717-4180
Fax: 	+27 (0)11 717-4199

email: (vorzugsweise/preferata/preferred) (wird unregelma?ig durchgesehen/trarigardata
malregule/checked irregularly)

11. From: ahmad khalef sakarna <>

You may check my dissertation, Phonological Aspects of 9abady Arabic, a
Bedouin Jordanian Dialect: 1999; University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA), where
I argue that the set of Arabic emphatics, the set of guttrals, and the
emphatic /r/ function as a natural class in triggering certain phonological
processes that require the presence of the low vowel /a/ as opposed to certain
processes that trigger /i/ or /u/.

Ahmad Khalaf Sakarna
Ph.D. Linguisitcs/Phonology
Mu'tah University, Jordan

12. From: "Geoffrey S. Nathan" <>

An easy answer to your question would be a path from r-colored schwa (as in
American English) to schwa to /a/. This has happened repeatedly in
borrowings from English into languages which lack schwa, such as
Japanese. Examples include /saakasu/ 'circus', /guraidaa/ 'glider/,
/aNpaia/ 'umpire', all almost certainly borrowed from r-ful dialects.
Of course, finding examples based on more consonanty r's like trills and
taps would be a little harder to find.

Geoffrey S. Nathan
Department of Linguistics
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Carbondale, IL, 62901-4517
Phone: (618) 453-3421 (Office) / FAX (618) 453-6527
 (618) 549-0106 (Home)

13. From: Bart Mathias <>

Assuming you're referring to the English phonemes /a/ and /r/, the link is
that they are both basically central vowels (although /r/ usually refers to
a glide form, as in "run" or "more" rather than the full vowel as in "err"
or "earn"; I'm not sure how the full vowel comes out in ASCII).

This has effect in the Japanese borrowing of English words with /r/ as
either a full vowel or as an off-glide as a long [a:], usually phonemicized
as /aa/.

14. From: Adam Werle <>

Eric Bakovic wrote a paper suggesting that schwa and /r/ are allophones in
an Eastern Massachusetts dialect of English that evinces intrusive [r]. The
paper, 'Deletion, Insertion, and Symmetrical Identity', can be found on the
Rutgers Optimality Archive, and was allegedly to be published in Harvard
Working Papers 6. The abstract follows this message.

Adam Werle.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Deletion, Insertion, and Symmetrical Identity

Eric Bakovic
Harvard University

In the Correspondence Theory of faithfulness as originally proposed by
McCarthy & Prince (1995), faithfulness to a segment's feature
specifications is regulated by symmetrical IDENT[f] constraints: a change
within a segment from [+f] to [-f] or from [-f] to [+f] is assumed to
violate one and the same IDENT[f] constraint. This view of featural
faithfulness, which deprives features of much of their autosegmental
independence, has been argued against by a number of authors. For instance,
Pater (to appear) gives an argument for asymmetrical IDENT[f] constraints,
still binding featural faithfulness to segmental correspondence but
partially recognizing the independence of opposite feature values (see also
McCarthy & Prince 1995:5.1, to appear:5.4). More radically, Lombardi (1995
et seq.) and others have argued for full-blown featural correspondence,
freeing features completely from their segmental anchors. In this paper I
bring another set of facts to bear on the question of featural faithfulness,
arguing in favor of the original, symmetrical IDENT[f]. This set of facts
concerns the distribution of [r] in Eastern Massachusetts English (Whorf
1943, Venneman 1972, Kahn 1976, McCarthy 1991, 1993, Blevins 1997, Halle &
Idsardi 1997).

The well-known facts concerning the distribution of [r] in Eastern
Massachusetts and other dialects of English have resisted explanatorily
adequate analysis primarily because they involve the insertion of a
generally unexpected epenthetic consonant, [r]. The fact that underlying
[r] is also deleted in a complementary set of environments (and retained
otherwise) is clearly relevant, as originally noted by Vennemann (1972), but
no synchronic analysis of these facts to date has connected them to each
other in a satisfactory way, claims to the contrary notwithstanding (see
e.g. Halle & Idsardi 1997). I propose a novel interpretation of these facts
within OT and lay out the details of an analysis of them that meets
satisfactory standards of both descriptive and explanatory adequacy.

Following up on a proposal originally made by Kahn (1976:69-70; see also
Broadbent 1991 and Gnanadesikan 1997:159-162), I analyze [r]-insertion as
the diphthongization of a vowel, where diphthongization is here technically
understood as a relation between one segment in the input and two segments
in the output. This imperfect correspondence violates some IDENT[f]
constraint(s), where 'f' is a feature or features not shared between [r] and
the vowel it forms a diphthong with. Similarly, [r]-deletion is analyzed as
the coalescence of [r] with a preceding vowel, where coalescence is a
relation between two segments in the input and one segment in the output.
This equally imperfect correspondence violates the same IDENT[f]
constraint(s) that [r]-insertion violates, and it is this connection between
the two processes that explains why [r] and not some other consonant is
inserted in Eastern Massachusetts English speech.

[This paper is to appear in Harvard Working Papers 6.]


15. From: joyce <>

Hve yo seen Bryan Gick's haskins lab dissertation? He did a study of the
r-drop dialects and has a very interesting analysis of the difference
between those who do and don't have r's as being the result of a timing
difference in the articulators rather than a drop or deletion. Part of
it concerns the a/r business. He's at UBC and I think he finished at
Haskins in 1999...

Joyce McDonough
Department of Linguistics
University of Rochester
Rochester NY 14625

16. From: Dominic Watt <>

This probably isn't the sort of thing you're looking for, but anyway: in
non-rhotic varieties of southern British English, /a/+/r/ sequences brought in
in borrowings from languages like French and Spanish tend to be reinterpreted
as /A:/ - as in e.g. 'reservoir', 'bizarre', 'armada', 'Argentina', 'Alcazar',
etc., in much the same way as native orthographic <ar> sequences are
interpreted in these varieties. The same is true of Welsh and Gaelic loans
(e.g. bard). I'm assuming here that the non-English vowels are somewhat
fronter than the CV 5-like vowel you get in accents like RP, in which sense it
could be argued that the retraction and lengthening of /a/+/r/ to /A:/ is a
kind of coalescent assimilation.

Northern English English, such as that of Yorkshire, does something a bit
different here: long /A:/ is actually a long front [a:] in many accents (sorry
for the confusing symbols!) And of course rhotic British accents 'preserve'
the original /r/, though the phonetics of this segment are liable to be
somewhat different from those in the loaning language.

Dominic Watt
Department of Language & Linguistic Science
University of York
York YO10 5DD
Tel.: 01904 432665
Fax: 01904 432673

17. From: "Richard Laurent" <>

Though you don't define which kind of /r/ you mean--AmEng flap, French
uvular, Sp./It./Russ. tap or trill--I would say that /a/ (actually [alpha])
is the most vocalic of vowels, i.e. the most open, while /r/ is the most
vocalic of consonants, i.e. the one where the airflow is the least
obstructed, for a consonant.

18. From: "John Reighard" <>

I'm sure you already know about British and southern US English in which a
coda final /r/ comes out sounding a lot like /a/. My British mother had us
kids doing our chores around the house, and for the longest time I thought
they were called "chaws", not "chores".

I believe Berlin German does something similar, perhaps limited to (word?)
final "-er". I recently heard a Berlin woman saying something like "das
Wasser" ("the water") and it really sounded like "das Wassa" (very striking,
and I'm not all that fluent in German). William Gater did a PhD thesis on
Berlin German at the Universit� de Montr�al sometime between 1975 and 1980,
and you might find references there.

You're surely also aware of English loans in Japanese in which coda /r/ is
interpreted as /a/ (e.g. "party" -> /paatii/).

Another possible lead might be some Brazilian varieties in the state of S�o
Paulo that have retroflex rhotics for the phoneme /r/, some only in coda
position, others in all positions. I remember hearing a S�o Paulo woman
saying "Fecha a porta" ("Close the door") and was sure she was American...
until I heard her speak further, and realized she was pure S�o Paulo
Brazilian. But that's a retroflex /r/; unfortunately I don't know of any
obvious /r/ - /a/ relation in Brazilian.

What about initial /r/? Qu�bec French "recule" /rEkyl - arkyl/, "rien"
/rjen - arjen/... Could there be a connection?

Finally, old Latin loans in Basque with initial /r-/ show up as /err-/, e.g.
"rege(m)" ("king") > "errege" (ibid.). This seems to me more related to the
sort of pan-Iberian constraint against onset initial weak /r/ (Spanish and
Portuguese both require a strong trilled -- or velar in the case of
Portuguese -- /rr/ in this position), but a vowel does indeed show up.

19. To: <>

There's some discussion of this in chapter six of April
McMahon's book "Lexical Phonology and the history of English" (Cambridge
Studies in Linguistics 91). The context is the epenthesis (or deletion) of
/r/ after various non-high vowels in some dialects of English, e.g. the
pronunciation of 'Cuba' as (roughly) 'Cubar'. See especially pgs. 270ff.,
e.g. the quote "...given the difficulties encountered earlier in discovering
any phonological feature unifying /r/ and the relevant vowels."

 Mike Maxwell
 Summer Institute of Linguistics
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