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I am from New England (northeastern US) and it's my understanding that we have a non-rhotic dialect in this region, which is unusual compared to the rest of the US.

It is common to drop the final r in a word, and that is the most singular feature of the dialect, as Tom Bosley's character in Murder, She Wrote famously abused. Car turns into cah; Bar Harbor becomes Bah Hahbah.

One other feature of my native dialect is the intrusive r. This shows up in mysterious places, the examples that spring to mind are idea(r) and area(r), seemingly after terminal "a" sounds.

Similarly, it pops up where one would use non-r word endings like saw, especially when followed by a vowel (perhaps to make it easier to glide from one vowel to another without a glottal stop):

I sore [saw] a black Chevy van parked in front of my house this morning.

Does the intrusive r appear in all non-rhotic dialects? Does it appear only in non-rhotic dialects?

I have been wondering if it is a kind of over-correction, where I hear it at the ends of these words because I am used to hearing a dropped r when a word ends with an a sound. For example, since I hear "cah" as car, I also hear "idea" as idear.

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Non-rhotic BrE also has an r between the two words of "Java array". –  St John of the Cross Apr 2 '13 at 13:38
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@StJohn I am trying to pronounce that right now and it is extremely difficult. Java-r-array. Too many r sounds! –  KitFox Apr 2 '13 at 13:43
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Short answer: it depends. Some non-rhotic dialects have intrusive-r (there is an underlying 'r' colouring), other's don't (there is no 'r' at all). For The classic Boston accent, it -is- intrusive: 'Pahk the cah rin Hahvahd yahd.' –  Mitch Apr 2 '13 at 13:59
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Don't have a source for this, but as a native New Yorker, I heard many intrusive r s in the "classic" New York accent even though the dialect is definitely not non-rhotic. Idear and its friends were common. There are many New York City accents, and the one that I recall having the most intrusive rs was Irish Bronx. (It's not what you think--that's probably Italian Bronx, as in "Two tree times a day I go tuh duh batroom."). By the way, here's something fun about my NY accent: jamesbeldock.com/2007/08/05/… –  jbeldock Apr 3 '13 at 4:53
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As @jbeldock implies, you're generalizing a lot of accents together. Boston and Maine are known for an accent/dialect such as you describe. My understanding has always been that the rest of New England has a very neutral accent. Not coincidentally, this is the most common 'broadcast accent'. No idea which came first - if broadcasters were chosen who sounded neutral, or if they sound neutral because we got used to them. (Regardless, people from CT, RI, VT, etc. drive "the car to the bar".) –  hunter2 Apr 5 '13 at 11:52

3 Answers 3

This feature is called intrusive r, as others have pointed out. Bryan Gick, from Yale University, writes:

Intrusion typically refers to the presence of a non-historical consonant between two heterosyllabic vowels. ... All dialects having intrusive r also seem to require two subordinate processes: r-vocalisation (the reduction or apparent complete loss of some or all coda /r/'s also known as r-loss, r-deletion, r-dropping or simply r-lessness or non-rhoticity) and linking r (the non-deletion or reinsertion of these historical /r/'s when followed by a vowel-initial morpheme)

r-vocalisation. Historically, the first process that led to the present state of the intrusive r was the reduction or loss of coda /r/'s before tautosyllabic consonants. Jones (1989:ç5.3.3) gives orthoepic evidence of the dropping or reduction of /r/ in this environment from as early as the 15th century, citing such alternate spellings as: bersel/bessel, hors/hos, harsk/haske, morther/mother (for 'murder', not 'mother'), quart/quat, etc. By the 18th century in London the general reduction of coda /r/'s was a thoroughly well-entrenched, if not well-accepted, practice.

Linking r is a process common to many r-vocalising dialects, whereby a historically attested final r is not vocalised (or is vocalised and then reintroduced, depending on the account) when followed by a vowel-initial morpheme. This r is generally presumed to be retained or inserted either to serve as a `hiatus-breaking' element, or to provide a sufficient onset or coda to the following or preceding syllable, respectively.

Intrusive r is typically described as being identical in its surface manifestation to linking r, the only difference being that in the case of intrusion, no final r was historically present (e.g. idea > idea[r] is). r-intrusion only occurs in dialects having both r-vocalisation and r-linking.

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As far as I know, in casual speech, the intrusive 'r' is a feature of many non-rhotic English dialects, but I'm pretty sure that there's not any rhotic dialect that has it. Seems to be a hiatus repair strategy.

It occurs only in words ending with a non-high vowel when followed by a word beginning with a vocalic segment.

There's some work by Hartmann & Zerbian and Hock on intrusive 'r'.

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I can only offer this bit from the venerable alt.usage.english group:

Many nonrhotic speakers (including RP speakers, but excluding most nonrhotic speakers in the southern U.S.) use a "linking r": they don't pronounce "r" in "for" by itself /fO:/, but they do pronounce the first "r" in "for ever" /fO: 'rEv@/. Linking "r" differs from French liaison in that the former happens in any phonetically appropriate context, whereas the latter also needs the right syntactic context.

A further development of "linking r" is "intrusive r". Intrusive-r speakers, because the vowels in "law" (which they pronounce the same as "lore") and "idea" (which they pronounce to rhyme with "fear") are identical for them to vowels spelled with "r", intrude an r in such phrases as "law [r]and order" and "The idea [r]of it!" They do NOT intrude an [r] after vowels that are never spelled with an "r". Some people blanch at intrusive r, but most RP speakers now use it.

This actually quite clearly suggests that the linking R is not used by all non-rhotic speakers, expressly excluding "most nonrhotic speakers in the southern U.S.".

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