2

First-off, I'm not a native speaker.

I've noticed that a lot of words ending in -r and -l are pronounced as if they had an extra syllable. Especially when they have a -ee- or -ai- sound.

Consider

  • reap
  • real
  • rear

The last two are pronounced ree-ul and ree-ur. Reap is a one-syllable word. Others aren't.

More examples: beep/beer, cake/care, laid/lair

Also, words with most other sounds preceding -r don't seem to follow the pattern. Car is not caa-ur. More is not mo-ur.

So my questions are:

  1. Is the extra syllable just something I'm hearing, or is it actually pronounced?
  2. If it is pronounced, why do only -r and -l follow the rule?
  • 3
    What you're hearing is probably the diphthong inserted in those words by certain speakers. It amounts to an extra syllable that "shouldn't" be there. Some dialects feature this production. You'll hear it in other words as well: bayuck for back, etc. – Robusto Mar 25 '15 at 13:43
  • 2
    Sorry @Robusto, but an extra syllable in back to make it sound like bayuck, is not the same thing as the 2-syllable rear or peel which even "accent-neutral" US Midwesterners pronounce with two syllables. I think the OP is onto something here and hope there are some informative answers. – Kristina Lopez Mar 25 '15 at 13:56
  • 1
    Well, I guess we'll just have to wait for @JohnLawler then. ^_^ – Robusto Mar 25 '15 at 13:58
  • 1
    I live in the U.S. Midwest, and I've never heard anyone pronounce rear or peel with more than one syllable. – Nicole Mar 25 '15 at 15:53
  • 2
    @Tushar To paraphrase an old joke, ask five English-speakers about the pronunciation of their own language, and you'll get six opinions. – David Garner Mar 26 '15 at 9:22
2

Yes, the extra syllable is there. Like most such changes, it happens in order to simplify the pronunciation. The English long/tense vowels are diphthongs -- they end in a glide -y or -w, so when a diphthong is followed by a -l or -r in the same syllable, you're left with syllables ending in -yl, -wl, -yr, -wr, which are hard to pronounce.

In my speech, which is a Midwestern variety of Standard English, what happens to simplify the pronunciation is that either the -l or -r becomes syllabic, so you get an extra syllable (as you've observed), or else the glide -y or -w drops out, and you're left with a simple vowel preceding the -l or -r instead of a diphthong.

Personally, I make the -l syllabic in your example "real": [ɹɪjl] ==> [ɹɪj.l̩], but in "rear", instead the glide is dropped: [ɹɪjɹ] ==> [ɹɪɹ]. However, I believe syllabifying the -r and leaving the glide is also common.

I also drop the glide, making the preceding vowel a monophthong in your examples "beer", "care", and "lair", but again, I think the two syllable pronunciations are common.

  • This is the right answer. I think it happens (in some dialect) for nearly all the diphthongs in English followed by /r/ or /l/. – Peter Shor Mar 26 '15 at 23:05
  • @Greg Lee: Thanks. Helpful answer. But it's surprising that -r and -l are considered difficult to pronounce. I'm from India. In Hindi/Urdu, -r is treated as any other consonant and pronounced without the glide. Without that, our poetry would look very different. Meter is essential in Indian poetry and a disproportionate number of words end in -r. – Tushar Raj Mar 27 '15 at 7:45
  • No, this is the wrong answer. As per the dictionary definition of a diphthong (see my answer) it is a "gliding speech sound [...] held to be a single sound". It is hence one syllable and NOT two. – AndyT Mar 27 '15 at 10:14
  • @Tushar, it's the syllable final combinations -wr and -yr which, I say, are difficult. Not just r. – Greg Lee Mar 27 '15 at 12:08
  • 1
    @AndyT, if the glide part of a diphthong is syllabified, it's true, then it's no longer a diphthong. But you can't reach a conclusion about the actual pronunciation just from a definition. If, after syllabifying, there is no longer a diphthong, we won't call it one. Does that solve the problem for you? – Greg Lee Mar 27 '15 at 12:17
-1

This is called a diphthong. Although the sound does change, it is not treated as separating the word into syllables. Even more exciting is the triphthong where you have three vowel sounds in one syllable!

  • Not sure why the downvotes. Do people disagree with the dictionary (as per my links)? – AndyT Mar 26 '15 at 16:01
  • I don't agree with downvoting without explanation, but I'd guess it's because, whether or not "fire' includes a triphthong, it isn't pronounced "fie-ee-er". Consider how a foreign learner would use your suggestion - the result would sound silly. – David Garner Apr 3 '15 at 14:37
  • @David - Thanks, I take your point. I've removed the example of "fire". – AndyT Apr 7 '15 at 8:18
-2

I hear many people, women more often than men, pronounce these words with two syllables--fie-yer for fire, rue-wool for rule, etc. I think probably most people do it when shouting to somebody far away to achieve greater clarity. Otherwise it sounds somewhat childlike, but people still do it. NPR reporters seem to prefer these pronunciations.

protected by user140086 Apr 21 '16 at 11:01

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