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- the excessive or idiosyncratic use of the r;
- conversely, the inability or difficulty in pronouncing r.
- the conversion of another consonant, e.g., s, into r.
In medicine rhotacism is the inability or difficulty in pronouncing the sound "r". The Looney Tunes character, Elmer Fudd (originally voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan and later by Mel Blanc), is notorious for his exaggerated rhotacistic speech ("Be vewwy quiet… I'm hunting wabbits").
Rhotacism is more common among speakers of languages which have a trilled R, such as Swedish, Italian, Polish and Spanish. This sound is usually the last one a child masters. Some people never learn to produce it correctly and substitute other sounds, like a velar or uvular approximant. R may be also realized as an uvular trill—a pronunciation usually known as "French R". It used to be considered prestigious in Poland, but now it's usually believed to be a speech defect too.
In Indo-European languages, rhotacism can be seen in a conversion of another consonant — for instance "s" or "d" or "n" to "r" in many words.
Albanian rhotacism changes "n" to "r";
- ranë (from the Latin arena) vs rërë (= "sand")
- Valona (from the Latin Avlona) vs Vlora (a town in Southern Albania)
that change took place in the 13th century in the southern (Tosk) dialects, which now dominate in the literary language. The Northern Gheg dialects, also spoken in Kosovo and Western Macedonia, keep the original "n". Hence "armik" (dictionary entry for "enemy") is "anmik" in Gheg.
In Aramaic, proto-Semitic n is often changed to r:
- bar "son" as compared to Hebrew ben (from Proto-Semitic *bnu)
- trên and tartên "two" (masculine and feminine form respectively) as compared to Demotic Arabic tnēn and tintēn (from Proto-Semitic *ṯnaimi and *ṯnataimi). Cf. also Aramic tinyânâ "the second one", without the shift.
- vriezen vs gevroren (from Germanic *friusana vs *fruzenaz)
Compare also Gothic dags with Old Norse dagr (from Germanic *dagaz)
- was vs were (from Germanic *was vs *wēzun)
- lose vs forlorn (from Germanic *liusana vs *luzenaz)
In Scouse, intervocalic dentals are realised as "r" when the stress pattern is STRESSED VOWEL-dental-unstressed vowel. "Got a lot of.." becomes "Gorra lorra...".
- war vs gewesen (from Germanic *was vs *wēzun)
In Central German dialects, esp. Rhine-Franconian and Hessian, d is frequently realized as r in intervocalic position. This change also occurs in Mecklenburg dialects.
- Borrem (Central Hessian) vs Boden (Standard German)
The Japanese language does not have a phoneme equivalent to the English 'l' or 'r'; the closest sound is referred to as an alveolar lateral flap. Loanwords with 'l' or 'r' in the original language are represented using this sound, and in romanized Japanese text the letter 'r' is used, regardless of whether the original was an 'r' or 'l' to begin with. Accordingly, Japanese people are faced with rhotacism-type trouble in pronouncing the letters 'r' and 'l', as well as difficulty in differentiating between the two sounds.
- flos (nominative) vs florem (accusative) (Old Latin flosem)
- genus (nominative) vs generis (genitive) (from *geneses, cf Sanskrit janasas)
- corroborare vs robustus (verb from *conrobosare)
- de iure vs iustus (from de iouse)
- ero vs est (from eso)
This reflects a highly-regular change in pre-classical Latin. Intervocalic s in the oldest attested Latin documents invariably became r. Intervocalic s in Latin suggests either borrowing, reduction of an earlier ss, or the treatment of d+t into s (videre/visum). Old s was preserved initially (septum), finally, and in consonant clusters.
The English word hono[u]r is derived from French honour, which in turn was derived from Late Latin honor, earlier honos, which became honor by analogy with honoris (genitive), honorem (accusative)
In Neapolitan rhotacism is seen in a shift from the sound of "d" to an "r" sound:
(Italian vs Neapolitan)
- medesimo vs meresemo
- diaspora vs riaspro
and, to a lesser extent, from the sound of an "l" to an "r" sound:
- albero vs arvero
- ultimo vs urdemo
In Old Portuguese, rhotacism occurred from the "l" sound to the "r" sound, as in the words obrigado "obliged" and praça "plaza". In contemporary Brazilian Portuguese, rhotacism of "l" in the syllable coda is characteristic of poorly educated speakers.
Rhotacism in Romanesco consists of a shift from "l" to "r" when it is followed by a consonant. Thus, Latin altus (tall) which in Italian is alto in Romanesco becomes arto. In ancient Romanesco it also happened when "l" was preceded by a consonant, as in the word ingrese (English), but the modern way of speaking has lost this characteristic.
In Romanesco exists another kind of rhotacism: the shortening of the geminated "r". So the words errore, guerra and marrone (error, war, brown) in Romanesco become erore, guera and marone
Romanian rhotacism consists of a shift from intervocalic "l" to "r" and "n" to "r".
Thus, Latin caelum became Romanian cer and Latin fenestra becomes Romanian fereastră.
Some northern Romanian dialects and Istro-Romanian also further transformed all intervocalic "n" into "r". For example, Latin bonus became Istro-Romanian bur, as compared to standard Daco-Romanian bun.
- naus (before p/t/k) vs naur bharati
- agnis (before p/t/k) vs agnir mata
This is not a case of rhotacism proper, since r and s are simply allophones in those positions.
Slovenian rhotacism consists of shift from [ʒ] (like in English vision) to vibrating [r]:
- moreš from možešь
- kdor from kъtože
The same shift occurred in single words in other South Slavic languages.
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