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I don't live in English-speaking country. I try to learn English on my own. I am interested in aquisition the General American accent (GA). My question is about the American /r/ consonant ([ɹ]) and the American r-colored vowels ([ɚ]).

I have a problem with realization of the /r/ English phonem. I know that exist 10-11 or even more options to articulate this sound, but the retroflex and the bunched (aka molar, retracted, dorsal) versions are the most famous. I have learned the retroflex version of this sound. I am OK with the [ɻ], alveolar and postalveolar realizations.
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Now my main interest is the bunched /r/. I have tried many times to pronounce this for 3-4 weeks but I can't. I went through all the videos and articles about this topic that I found on the Internet. I have seen the MRI. The tongue tip must not be curl and lift up, the tip of the tongue should be located at the bottom or just neutral. Each time I try the tip my tongue wants to go up. If I hold the tip of my tongue and don't lift it up then I'm making completely different sound.

bunched r 1

So, how to pronounce the clear "bunched /r/" without lifting the tip?

What I've tried: I looked at my mouth with a flashlight in a mirror, I used a pencil, I used a spoon.

Russian language is my native tongue. I don't have speech defects in my native language.

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    There are many Americans who never use the bunched /r/ (and even though these sounds are made in quite different ways, they are fairly difficult to distinguish). So to speak with an authentic American accent, you only need to learn one of these /r/s. Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 12:17
  • Thank you for your comment Peter. I didn't know it Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 14:24
  • Can you please give any advices about the bunched /r/ Peter? Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 15:00
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    In your post, you seem to be worried about getting the position of the tip of your tongue correct. That doesn't matter for the bunched /r/; what matters is the position is the position of the back and sides of your tongue (where it touches the molars). Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 12:40
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    @Mitch: the retroflex and bunched /r/ are allophones in American English, so it doesn't matter which you use. I use the bunched /r/ after /k/s and /g/s (as in grove) and the retroflex /r/ after /t/ and /d/ (as in trip). And in words like emperor, where you have two /r/s one after the other, I usually use one of each. But I once did a web search looking at advice Americans gave as to when to use these two different /r/s, and the advice differed wildly. Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 16:51

2 Answers 2

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Retroflex and bunched /r/ are on a continuum (see the image below). If you can already produce retroflex /r/, start with a sustained [ɻ] and then tense up the tongue body so that it turns from concave to convex. I don't think you have to focus on the tip because raising the body inevitably lowers it anyway. The important thing is that the overall anteroposterior position of the tongue in relation to the oral cavity doesn't change.

Catford recommends first producing a uvular trill and then moving the tongue body forward (quoted here), so you may also try that if you know how to produce [ʀ].

I must also note that if you can already produce either variant there's not much use in being able to produce the other, unless you're practicing it purely for fun, because they sound almost the same. Also it's not the case that bunched /r/ is "the American /r/"; both retroflex and bunched /r/ are found in both British and American English.


From Tiede (2007): From Tiede (2007)

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  • They're on a continuum? I use both the bunched and the retroflex /r/, and as far as I can tell, you can't make an American-sounding /r/ with any intermediate tongue position. And nothing I've read says they're on a continuum. I'll agree the pictures you've included make it look like they are, but I think that's misleading because you can't see the third dimension. Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 12:34
  • I can switch back and forth between retroflex and bunched /r/ while continuously producing it, and the timbre hardly changes. I don't find it misleading at all.
    – Nardog
    Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 12:38
  • When I try that, the sound I make when my tongue is in between these positions is more like /ʒ/ than /r/ (on the other hand, it's vaguely possible may have figured out how to make the ř in Dvořák by accident). Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 12:44
  • Nardog thanks for your answer. Yes, I do it for fun. I think I can produce a uvular trill but moving forward doesn't help. I don't know why Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 13:12
  • What about the first option then?
    – Nardog
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 0:48
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I know this is an old question, but for the sake of any future readers, I thought there might be something that could be added:

I might suggest taking it in 3 steps:

  1. A very important aspect of the American English bunched ɹ that isn’t always mentioned is that it is pharyngealized. That is to say, the throat is tightened at the same time that your tongue approaches the velum. You might think of it as gargling— but without the buzzing. You can practice by alternating saying “ohhh,” (Any vowel sound that’s not close or front and not (very) rounded should work. I might choose [o] with the tongue root retracted) then continuing but tightening your throat (like, push in by lowering your Adam’s apple). You want to create a sound that’s not “buzzy” but clear, kind of more like a fog horn (and relaxed-you shouldn’t have to strain). You might be able to hear a transition sound that’s already slightly “ɹ-like.”

  2. Next, start by making a vowel sound with this throat constriction, and then push your tongue toward your velum. I believe Russian has other velar consonants, such as g, x, and ɣ. Your target will be a significantly further back than these. And the contact surface of the tongue will be pretty far to the back. You’ll be more pulling the root of your tongue back than pulling your tongue up.

  3. Refine..

If you are hearing a sound that seems more like a mix of “ɹ” and “l,” then try going further back. Even if it seems like you’re going behind/under the velum.

If it seems to be difficult because it’s taking a lot of breath/not enough friction, or if the r-sound doesn’t sound “precise,” try to press more surface area of your tongue against your mouth/throat to constrict the air more.

The initial practice at the throat-constriction while you’re getting used to it may cause you to work too hard at it. Once you get close to the sound you’re aiming for, you probably will want to experiment and ajust so that you can make the sound in a more relaxed way.

I don’t know how well that would work, but it’s something you could try. It’s a hard sound to learn. It seems to be one of the most common sounds that give English language learners difficulty.

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  • In hindsight, I think “tightening” the throat was the wrong word to use. I meant restricting the air flow in the pharyngeal area. I accomplish this mainly using the root of my tongue inside of my throat, (although also to some extent with the external muscles of my throat). Commented Jun 14 at 7:26
  • And I may have over-emphasized the idea of moving your tongue back. I move it both back and up. So I think it’s making near-contact over a large surface spanning across the velar, uvular and pharyngeal areas. Commented Jun 14 at 7:28
  • And as Nardog pointed out, this isn’t even the only way to do a bunched-r, just my particular way. Lots of variations will sound virtually identical. Commented Jun 14 at 7:30

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