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Following this video, this is how we correctly make the r sound:

  • Let the throat vibrate since it is voiced.
  • Round the lip a little.
  • Raise the tip of the tongue towards the hard bump behind the upper front teeth, but do not let the tip of tongue touch the bump. This also makes the center of the tongue go down.
  • The back part of the tongue is raised because you pull it into a tight ball
  • Fold and raise the sides of the tongue so they touch the upper side-teeth.

If we follow the above requirement, our tongue should have an s shape when we pronounce the r sound as depicted in the following sketch:

crude sketch of the buccal cavity

Is it possible to raise the tip while raising the back and lowering the center of the tongue when making an r sound?

How do native speakers make an r?

P.S. My tongue is very short anyway!

  • When I simply move the tip of my tongue backwards in my mouth, it automatically "curls up", with the tip and the back raised relative to the middle part. And yes, that happens when I pronounce and /R/. That said, I'm not (native) English. – oerkelens Jan 9 '15 at 12:41
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    there is no way i can feel the back raises up. can u feel that? – Tom Jan 9 '15 at 12:43
  • I can feel that the back lower when I stop pronouncing the R — so it must be raised while pronouncing it. If I consciously lower it while pronouncing an R, I start making a sound as if I am dying in a painful way. My colleagues are at the point of calling a doctor :P – oerkelens Jan 9 '15 at 12:49
  • I think @oerkelens is just not used to non-raised retroflexes. If I pronounce the Faroese [ɹ], the back of my tongue is not arched; but when I pronounce the English [ɻʷ], it is. It is perfectly physiologically possible, and native speakers of English do do it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 9 '15 at 13:05
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: your assumption is spot on. I rarely speak Faroese indeed; but it is a perfect explanation for my worried colleagues :P – oerkelens Jan 9 '15 at 13:11
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I suppose in the picture they want to explain the tongue position for the typical American r-sound as in "far" that isn't used in normal BrE.

I would say that description of the tongue position is very bizarre. You have the mouth opening as in the articulation of long a and raise the tip of your tongue up to the palate and pronounce /fa:r/, that's all. I doubt whether you can raise the back of your tongue as the back of your tongue is fixed somewhere in the throat. You can raise the lower jaw and by doing this the back of the tongue comes nearer to the top of the mouth cavity.

But all this is irrelevant for producing an American r-sound. I think the picture and the explanation is not very scientific. And I would look for better material.

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    I would say there are several possibilities to produce an r, also depending on the position of r in the word. And obviously the correct explanation of the tongue position seems to be difficult. I searched in the field of articulatory phonetics but didn't find useful material. But I think the picture of the first post is not correct. And one has to differentiate between r produced with the tip of the tongue and an r that is produced in the throat. – rogermue Feb 8 '15 at 17:03
  • What is traditionally known as the back of the tongue is not fixed in your throat. That's the base of your tongue. The back of your tongue is the part of your tongue that is located around the posterior oral articulators (the soft palate and the uvula, basically), and it is most certainly possible to move that up and down. And yes, it is raised when pronouncing your standard American /r/. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 2 '15 at 15:33
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Actually, if you concentrate on curling your tongue so that the sides are pressed against your top molars, (and open your mouth while vibrating the throat) You can't avoid making the beginning of the /R/ sound. (To finish - just bite down.)

  • Bite down?!? For /r/? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 2 '15 at 15:34
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - Maybe I have a strange bite, but yeah, when I say /r/ the sides of my tongue are squished between my back teeth. (It's not the British way, but...) If you imitate a dog's bark by saying "Arr, arr, arr!" the tongue does get chewed a bit. That's how we say it here. (US) – Oldbag Aug 2 '15 at 21:21
  • Oh, I see what you mean now. Yes, the sides of the tongue make contact—for most people just with the upper molars, for some with both upper and lower, and for some with the bit of the hard palate right above the upper molars. But there’s not usually any actual biting down going on—especially not, as I read it first, with your front teeth. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 2 '15 at 23:54

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