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I know that idea is pronounced as /aɪˈdiə/, but I've meet several people in real life who put an 'r' at the end of the word. How come?

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5  
Because they're from Massachusetts. –  Callithumpian Jul 3 '11 at 14:17
    
I had a math professor who pronounced "alpha" and "beta" as "alpher" and "bay-ter." –  Thomas Andrews Jul 3 '11 at 19:12
    
I was asking this myself, too, but not with people rather from UK than from Massachusetts. –  René Nyffenegger Sep 14 '11 at 9:26
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The Wikipedia link from elsewhere on this page deserves a more prominent placement: Linking and intrusive R –  RegDwigнt May 1 '12 at 9:04

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

In practically all dialects of (British) English, the word "idea" would generally be followed by an 'r' sound when followed by another word beginning with a vowel. So for example in saying "it was his idea and decision", this would usually be pronounced "idea-r-and decision". The phenomenon occurs in many places where you have a word ending in a vowel followed by another word beginning with a vowel and they are 'closely linked' syntactically, e.g. "law-r-and order", "Canada-r-and America", "he took the law-r-into his own hands" etc.

This occurs essentially because it's a natural phenomenon of language to have some strategy for 'linking' words together. French has a similar phenomenon involving 'latent' consonants (principally [z]), Spanish allows vowels to 'merge' into the same syllable, etc.

Update: there seems to be some disagreement about the exact extent of this phenomenon. In his article in the Blackwell Handbook of English Linguistics, Michael MacMahon (2008) describes it as:

"now very common in many accents of non-rhotic British English"

though without giving any actual data. Gick (1999), one of the articles referenced by the Wikipedia entry, comments:

"[...] the available data, which has centred almost exclusively on only two dialects: Southern British Received Pronunciation [...] and the dialect of eastern Massachusetts [..]. No other r-intruding dialects have been described which provide evidence bearing conclusively on the controversy."

However, I think by "the controversy" here, the author means "how the phenomenon is to be analysed phonologically" rather than whereabouts the phenomenon actually occurs. What seems to have happened is a few studies have focussed on certain specific dialects, but we shouldn't conclude from that that the phenomenon occurs only in those dialects.

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I don't think this is true. Is it possibly regional? –  jprete Jul 3 '11 at 16:24
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In my idiolect, this is not true, and I don't know anybody who uses an r as an interfix between words. I am confident that this is not a feature in practically all dialects of English. –  Peter Olson Jul 3 '11 at 16:49
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This only happens with some non-rhotic accents. Those of England, New England, New York and Australia, in particular. Wikipedia says that linking and intrusive 'r's do not occur in the non-rhotic accents of the American South, and I think they only occur in rhotic accents in regions (like Boston) where people are accustomed to hearing non-rhotic accents. –  Peter Shor Jul 3 '11 at 17:46
    
Sorry, I think you may be right that I need to retract that slightly: it's common in practically all dialects of British English, but I think you could be right that it's not so common in e.g. the US, where a glottal stop would maybe be more common as the 'liaison consonant'. –  Neil Coffey Jul 3 '11 at 17:46
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I thought that it was a very general mistake of Danes when they speak English. Alas, I have heard Alan Moore pronounce it as "idea-r"! It may be a British dialect but how it made its way to Denmark still baffles me. –  sterz Dec 9 '11 at 12:16

Adding r's to the end of words is something odd I first noticed as a child with my grandmother. Idea became "idear," "Ella" became "Eller," etc. I assumed it to be part of her Southern upbringing until I heard Billy Joel sing about "Brender and Eddie" in the "Ballad of Brenda and Eddie" segment of his "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." Apparently this goes up into Maine!

This most likely has its roots in hypercorrection. Much as some Cockneys began to worry about "dropping their h's" such that some adding them to the beginnings of words that actually do start with vowels, one can observe that R's are dropped at the ends of most words in Received Pronunciation British English. Accents from the Atlantic states, whether Northern or Southern, ultimately derive from England, and so this probably originated with people from less literate times adding r's in their heads to words that didn't actually end with them. After all, they were used to not hearing the final consonant in plenty of words that actually DO end in r's.

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2  
I've no idea if it's true or not, but I really like the hypercorrection hypothesis! –  FumbleFingers Jul 3 '11 at 15:32
    
The word idear seems to be singled out for hypercorrection. My hypothesis about this is that the phrase "idea of" occurs so often in English that people with non-rhotic accents are used to pronouncing an 'r' at the end of idea, because there is an intusive 'r' in the phrase "idea(r) of". –  Peter Shor Jul 4 '11 at 1:39
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It's conservation of r's. People who pahk their cah in the Hahvard yahd must name their daughters Leaser and Linder. –  David Schwartz Oct 4 '12 at 6:23
    
@DavidSchwartz That is so funny and clever! Wow. I can't stop laughing! –  Feral Oink May 23 '13 at 1:58

It's likely because those speakers have pronounced rhotic accents, which means that they generate an 'r' sound as part of certain vowels.

Edit: It's also common in non-rhotic accents to have an 'r' appear in certain circumstances. I just realised that I say "idears" not "ideas".

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As far as I'm aware, speakers of rhotic accents like non-rhotic speakers wouldn't put an -r at the end of "idea" as a blanket pronunciation, but would in cases of liaison a I mention, e.g. "idea-r-and decision" (just like other speakers). –  Neil Coffey Jul 3 '11 at 15:19
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@Neil Coffey: You'll find a lot of people in the west country who would put an r anywhere it can possibly fit. –  Marcin Jul 3 '11 at 16:42
    
@Marcin Indeed. I heard a radio ad for a car warsh last time I drove through Montana. –  mootinator Jul 3 '11 at 17:57
    
@Mootinator: Car warsh (rhymes with Porsche) is a special case ... it's a Midwestern pronunciation which I think has nothing to do with idear (a New York/New England pronunciation). –  Peter Shor Jul 3 '11 at 21:54
    
Is this anything more than just repeating the observation that prompted the question? –  wnoise Jul 3 '11 at 23:28

protected by RegDwigнt Dec 22 '11 at 14:51

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