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Q: New Englanders habitually mute or diminish the R phoneme (?) in many words, (park, car, Harvard, etc.). What is the name of this characteristic of their speech? So many of the patterns of New Englanders' speech (as distinct from many other regional US dialects) strikes me as a close mimic of the speech of our friends ‘across the pond,’ that I’m curious if the diminished R of BrE is noticeably distinct from that of NE AmE, and if so, where or amongst whom, in the UK is that distinction most pronounced?

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    An interesting/odd point about the New England style is that Rs are often inserted where they weren't. Good ole Norm on This Old House would famously say "drawerings" rather than "drawings". – Hot Licks Feb 7 '15 at 13:58
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English accents are commonly divided into two main groups: rhotic speakers pronounce a historical rhotic consonant (/r/) in all instances, whereas non-rhotic speakers pronounce /r/ only before or between vowels.

For example, a rhotic speaker pronounces words like hard and butter approximately as /ˈhɑrd/ and /ˈbʌtər/, whereas a non-rhotic speaker "drops" or "deletes" the r sound, pronouncing the words /ˈhɑːd/ and /ˈbʌtə/.

This link is fascinating on a big subject.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhotic_and_non-rhotic_accents

  • +1 very interesting, Dan. What's the significance of the fore/aft forward slashes - do they have a different title as employed here? The NE Rs are not completely dropped just blunted. – user98990 Feb 7 '15 at 13:18
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    @Little Eva: in the true traditional Boston accent, /r/s are completely dropped; I know people who say party, and it sounds exactly like the rest of the country says potty. (But for them, potty would rhyme with naughty.) There are people who have in-between accents which just blunt the /r/ (they may even outnumber the people who completely drop it nowadays, although I wouldn't think so). – Peter Shor Feb 7 '15 at 15:06
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    Informally, linguists sometimes use "r-ful" and "r-less" instead of "rhotic" and "non-rhotic". – Greg Lee Feb 7 '15 at 16:40
  • +1 Back at ya Dan, thank you for the response, and @Peter Shor - I was born in Dixie but raised in Middlesex County – user98990 Feb 11 '15 at 9:01
  • ... which I'm guessing is somewhere up North (not London, England) – Dan Feb 12 '15 at 8:07
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To expand on Hot Licks' observation of adding an "r" sound where there is none, some New Englanders (Boston) and Brits, while dropping the final "r" in words like mother and father, will, oddly, add one to a word that ends in a soft "a." During the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK famously pronounced that country's name as "KYOO-ber." This habit is dying out in the US Northeast but appears to be going strong in Great Britain.

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    In general, "r" is only inserted like this before a vowel. So you're likely to hear "Cuber" in a phrase like "Cuber and the United States," but unlikely to hear "Cuber" in a phrase like "Cuba's relationship with the United States." – herisson Oct 13 '16 at 13:41
  • Indeed, to add to Hijodelaisla's answer and sumelic's comment, a lot of Brits [maybe most Brits in the 'non-rhotic zones'] treat words ending in schwa as if they end in -er. So they'll pronounce 'Japan and China' just as you'd expect, but 'China and Japan' as 'Chiner and Japan'. – David Garner Oct 13 '16 at 15:12

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