Are /ɑːɹ/ (as in "start") and /æɹ/ (as in "parody", "marry", or "clarity") allophones? It seems that the latter can only occur when the /æɹ/ precedes a vowel in the word; i.e., when the /ɹ/ would be pronounced in a non-rhotic accent even if there are no following words. I speak a variety of American English where /æɹ/ is pronounced /eɹ/, so it isn't intuitively clear to me whether /ɑːɹ/ and /æɹ/ actually are or aren't allophones.

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    There is a good deal of dialectal variation of vowels before American rhotic /r/. Mostly tense/lax pairs neutralize in that environment, with wide variation in actual vocalization, but non-high front vowels are famously distinct in (e.g,) Rhode Island: Mary /meri/, merry /mɛri/, marry /mæri/. That's what my colleague Larry /læri/ from Providence told me. So the answer is really that it depends on who you're talking to and where you're from. Jul 18, 2020 at 21:04
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    Rhode Island is following British English in those pronunciations. Nobody would confuse those three vowels in BrE.
    – alephzero
    Jul 19, 2020 at 13:15

2 Answers 2


The other answer is correct. They are not allophones. But if you want even more proof, in the form of a minimal pair, the two words tarry /ˈtɑːri/, (to be covered with tar) and tarry /ˈtæri/ (to delay) are a minimal pair, where the difference in these vowels distinguishes the two meanings.


No, they are not allophones or in complementary distribution. There are several words with /ɑːɹ/ followed by a vowel. The word "starrer" is pronounced /stɑːɹə/ in British English (Lexico), not */stæɹə/. I'd imagine "sparrer", "starring", "scarring", "charring", "tarring", etc. also have an /ɑːɹ/ followed by a vowel. All these words are derived from by adding -er or -ing; I'm not sure if there are other examples as well that aren't so derivative from another word ending in /ɑːɹ/.

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    There are foreign words that English has borrowed, like safari and sari, which contain /ɑːɹ/, but aren't derived from words ending in /ɑːɹ/. But I can't think of any English ones. Jul 18, 2020 at 21:03

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