Is there a word in English for the inability to utter a specific sound like the rolled R for instance? In my language, there is a name for people who can only pronounce the uvular/guttural R instead of the rolled R. I'm curious to know if there is a word in English for this condition.

  • Is this the result of learning English as a foreign language, or just an accent or variety that a native speaker speaks?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:27
  • @Mitch Nothing to do with learning a foreign language. This is a very well known condition in my country.
    – user15851
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:33
  • There are different names for different sounds. You should be clearer about whether you want the general term (all people who can't produce one sound, as in your title), the specific term (people who can't produce one specific sound, as in your example), or some kind of list of sounds and terms.
    – Glen_b
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 23:40

3 Answers 3


There is the term Rhotacism


which relates to the difficulty in producing what many would consider to be a 'typical' /r/.


In general, the inability to pronounce a particular sound (that everyone else in the community can) is called a

speech impediment

This is more likely to describe a lisp or stammer or more serious inability arising from a physical disability or neurological problem.

  • If we have to go with the OP's example, I'm not sure I'd consider someone who couldn't roll their R's as having a speech impediment, but if we're talking in generalities, I'll agree this is a good choice. +1. Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:08
  • @Mitch In my language the word refers to the inability to pronounce the rolled R. Is there an equivalent in English rather than the general term impediment?
    – user15851
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:08
  • Since English doesn't contain a rolled R, it wouldn't make sense for English to have a word for not being able to pronounce it. There is a word (lisp) for not being able to pronounce /s/ and /z/ properly. Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:13
  • @Peter Shor Not only the rolled R ( like in Arabic) but also the British or American R. They can only pronounce the uvular/ gluttural R (
    – user15851
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:23
  • 1
    @Tanninah: as Peter notes, there is no rolled R in English so there is no need for an English word for that specific impediment. The closest is the inability to say an R at all and replace it with a W. 'Wogew Wabbit", which is known as a 'weak r'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:25

If the word you're looking for should literally mean "unable to pronounce a rolled R," then Guarin42's answer looks great.

On the other hand, if the connotation is "this person can't pronounce a certain sound, indicating that they come from a certain group," then you could say that the word or sound they can't pronounce would be a shibboleth. This word specifically refers to a word or phrase that members of one group pronounce differently than members of another group, allowing people to identify to which group everyone belongs.

Hope this helps!

  • 1
    Can it be said that all rhotacisms are shibboleths?
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 0:26

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