For example, we have - car /kɑː(r)/ - or /ɔː(r)/

I thought the brackets means you delete it - i.e. non rhotic - but now I see the phonetic spelling of words like "hard" which don't include the r at all /ˈhɑːd/

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    This notation is not standard. I would guess that in whatever dictionary you're looking at, /kɑː(r)/ means the /r/ is only pronounced if the word is followed by a vowel. Since the /r/ in hard is never followed by a vowel, it's never pronounced and so not included in the phonetic notation. – Peter Shor Apr 6 '15 at 23:17
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    There are many accents in British English. You need to be more specific. – curiousdannii Apr 7 '15 at 0:43
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    When I listen to the folks on BBC they pronounce their Rs more distinctly than the folks on "This Old House" from the Boston area. – Hot Licks Apr 7 '15 at 1:20

There is a basic rule for the pronunciation of /r/ in non-rhotic varieties of English, for example Southern Standard British English. We only pronounce /r/ if it precedes a vowel sound (sounds, not letters are the important factor). So in standard British English we see the following:

  • kærət (carrot)

  • rəʊd (road)

  • pa:k (park)

In the words above we see orthographic, written, 'R' followed by vowel sounds in carrot and road and so it is pronounced in these words. In park, however, 'R' is followed by the consonant /k/, and so is not pronounced. Notice that if an 'R' is followed by silence it isn't followed by a vowel and is therefore not pronounced. Also notice that the following vowel can be in a completely different word. So we see the following types of pronunciations:

  • kɑ: (car)

  • kɑ: pɑ:k (car park)

  • kɑ:r əlɑ:m (car alarm)

In the first example, there is no following vowel, so we don't pronounce the 'R' in car. In the second, the 'R' in car is followed by the consonant /p/, so again we don't pronounce it. In the third example this 'R' is followed by the first vowel in the word alarm and so this 'R' is pronounced /kɑ:r əlɑ:m/.

Lastly notice that written vowels are not important. So in the word weren't, we find:

  • wɜ:nʔ (weren't)

The last 'E' in weren't is, of course, silent. So the sound following the orthographic 'R' is the consonant, /n/. Because of this we do not pronounce the 'R' here.

  • Shouldn't it be /wəːnt/ (B.E.)? Also, isn't /ʔ/ mainly specific to AE? – edmz Apr 7 '15 at 11:06
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    @black Certainly not. Pronouncing /t/ as a glottal stop is far more widespread in many British dialects than in any American dialects (e.g., hit it off, in which more or all American dialects would reduce the first /t/ to [ɾ], and the second to either [ɾ] or [ʔ], but very rarely both; many Brits, on the other hand, would reduce both to [ʔ]). Some British speakers would pronounce a [t] in weren’t, others wouldn’t. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 7 '15 at 11:10
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    @black Actually, in negative contractions in SSBE we regularly see three different possibilities for the /t/. It can be realised as /t/, as a /ʔ/ or it can be dropped altogether. We also see free variation with individual speakers, so any particular individual might say /wəːnt/, /wɜːnʔ/ or /wɜːn/ at different times. In terms of frequency in SSBE, by the most common is /wɜːnʔ/ which is the realisation a vast majority of the time. The second most common is without any form of /t/ at all: /wːn/. By far the least common is with a canonical /t/: /wɜːnt/. All three are perfectly fine though! :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Apr 7 '15 at 12:14
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    @Araucaria You seem to have left out a vowel there (and inexplicably gone from [ə] to [ɜ], or the other way around). You also forgot the fourth and also very common option: [wɜ̃ː(ʔ)], where the /t/ is either a glottal stop or dropped altogether, and the /n/ is subsumed into the preceding vowel as a nasalisation. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 7 '15 at 12:30
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Yes, I liked Black's proper length marks and so copied his word without noticing that he's using the Upton transcription scheme (presumably) which uses ə: instead of ɜ:. Then I started editing it and it timed out on me! Yes, that's also a frequent realisation but can't be generalised out to mustn't for example, so I kinda hoped that would be subsumed by the general /ʔ/, cos I was focussing most on what happens to /t/ in neg contractions. But that's definitely true re nasalised vowel before glottal. Your diacritics aren't coming through. Don't know if that's my computer? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Apr 7 '15 at 14:15

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