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In one of my lectures after learning about several processes of connected speech (namely assimilation, elision and linking) we were faced with a transcription exercise with which I have slight problem concerning the use of linking /r/ and elision in RP. The affected letters were colour-marked in the example sentence, I will write the letters affected by elision in italic and the linked ones bold (as marked out by my professor).

John bought ten packs of star alliance stickers for her and him.

I understood when to link and when to elide (at least I hope so), that's why I asked myself whether the /r/ in 'for' in the sentence part 'for her' is a linking /r/ and therefore pronounced and my professor just forgot to colour-code that letter.

  • In RP, is the 'h' in 'her' pronounced? If so, then the 'r' is not intervocalic, and so wouldn't be pronounced, right? – Mitch Nov 12 '15 at 20:18
  • well according to my professor the 'h' in 'her' is subject to elision, that is, she marked it for us so that we elide it in the transcription process. – dukerasputin Nov 12 '15 at 20:20
  • OK. I don't know BrE and its varieties very well. I'd guess Cockney (or Estuary) drops initial h's (or mods them into glottal stops?) so maybe if h elides then the r would be reintroduced. So maybe this is a question for your professor rather than here. – Mitch Nov 12 '15 at 22:14
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    @Mitch, not just Cockney, Estuary or other regional variants. I'm looking 'A Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English' [J Windsor Lewis, 1972] and it makes it clear that the normal pronunciation of 'he', 'him' and 'her' [for example] is without the H-sound, which is sounded only when emphasized or after a pause. I believe that that usage goes all the way 'up' to British royalty. – David Garner Nov 16 '15 at 15:56
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    Ah, that would depend, I think, on the emphasis. Can't do IPA on my iPhone but if you're saying "for HER and HIM", you'd drop the R at the end of 'for' and sound both Hs. While if you were saying "I bought BOOK for her" (not a magazine) the 'her' would be unstressed, so the H wouldn't be sounded, so the R at the end of 'for' (since it's now preceding a vowel) would be sounded. It's not easy! – David Garner Nov 16 '15 at 21:05
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In normal speech the word her, like other pronouns is normally not stressed. So in the following sentence, the word her would be unstressed:

  • I can't hear her.

Now the word her like other function words has a weak form. This usually has no /h/ and is just pronounced /ə/. (If it is the first word in the sentence the /h/ will be pronounced). So in the sentence above the word her is likely to be pronounced /ə/ in normal speech.

The word hear is normally pronounced /hɪə/ in non-rhotic accents such as Southern Standard British English. However, when the word occurs before a vowel, we will see /r/-liaison occurring. In other words we will pronounce the word with an /r/: /hɪər/.

The Original Poster's example is a bit more tricky.

John bought ten packs of star alliance stickers for her and him.

Here we have a co-ordination of third person singular pronouns her and him, where we would normally expect something like for them. Because the speaker is picking out each individual here, the most natural reading is that both pronouns will take contrastive stress. In other words it is very unlikely, if it's even possible, that her and him will be unstressed.

Because these words are stressed we need to use the strong forms of these pronouns and not the weak forms. In SSBE, this means that we need the forms /hɜ:r/ and /hɪm/ (the /r/ in her is present because of the following vowel). Notice that the strong form of her begins with the consonant /h/. Because of this, the /r/ in the word for, which occurs directly before her, will not be pronounced and will be realised just as /fə/.

  • Thank you very much! It is now so clear to me why my prof didn't colour-code them, because they were in their strong form. Now I feel stupid :) – dukerasputin Nov 30 '15 at 16:46
  • @dukerasputin No, you shouldn't do! It's difficult to spot, and to be quite honest, it's also very difficult to explain exactly why her and him should be stressed here! (Although they definitely would be). – Araucaria Nov 30 '15 at 16:48
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    Yeah true, I just felt like it, because in the lecture we were given this exercise she talked about weak and strong forms. That I didn't think about that... – dukerasputin Nov 30 '15 at 16:52
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    @dukerasputin It's nice to see some proper linguistics questions on here. Thanks! – Araucaria Nov 30 '15 at 16:58

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