Rhotic vowels

R-colored vowel

R-colored vowel


In English

In singing

Dropping r-colored vowels when singing has traditionally been nearly universal and a standard part of vocal training, but there are now numerous exceptions, including many Irish singers and many performers of country music. In particular, Neil Young, Michael Stipe, Kurt Cobain, and Eddie Vedder, who have created distinctive singing styles which incorporate highly stressed R-colored vowels and rhotic diphthongs as part of their vocal techniques. Young, for example, in "Heart of Gold" (1972) gives strong R-coloring to three words in the line "I've been a miner for a heart of gold," giving a particularly American/Celtic tone to the words. In R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" (1991), lead vocalist Stipe sings "I thought that I heard you laughing" with a highly stressed emphasis on the R-vowel in the word "heard," lending a pleading quality to the lyrics. This also occurs to a lesser degree in hip-hop music; Flo Rida's "Low" is a pronounced example of this, with strong emphasis on the r-coloring of the final vowels in lyrics such as "throw my hands in the air" ([ˈʔeɪjɹ̩]). In this particular case, a vowel + r is pronounced as two syllables, a non-rhotic vowel followed by a syllabic r.

In Chinese

In Mandarin Chinese, the rhotacized ending of some words is the prime way by which to distinguish speakers of Standard Northern Mandarin (Beijing Mandarin) and Southwestern Mandarin from those of other forms of Mandarin in China. Mandarin speakers call this phenomenon Erhua. In many words, -r suffix is added to indicate some meaning changes. In simplified written Chinese, the change is indicated with the suffix 儿. (If the word ends in a nasal, the final consonant is lost and the vowel becomes nasalized if what is lost is a nasal velar (ng.) Major cities that have this form of rhotacized ending include Beijing, Tianjin, Tangshan, Shenyang, Changchun, Jilin, Harbin, and Qiqihar. This Erhua has since spread to other non-Standard Mandarin speaking provincial capitals, such as Shijiazhuang, Jinan, Xian, Chongqing, and Chengdu.

In rhotic accents of Standard Mandarin Chinese such as accents in cities Beijing, Tianjin, most of Hebei province (e.g. Tangshan, Baoding, Chengde), Eastern Inner Mongolia (e.g. Chifeng, Hailar), and the three Northeastern provinces, vocalic r occurs as a diminutive endings to nouns (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: ér) and the perfective aspect particle (Chinese: ; pinyin: le). This also occurs in the middle syllables of compound words consisting of 3 or more syllables. For example, the famous restaurant 'Gou Bu Li' (狗不理) in Tianjin is pronounced as 'Gourbli' (Gǒubùlǐ → Gǒurblǐ). 'Do not know' 不知道 (Bu Zhi Dao) is pronounced as 'Burdao' (Bùzhīdào → Bùrdào). The street 'Da Shan Lan' (大栅栏) in Beijing South City is pronounced as 'Da Shi Lar' (Dàshànlàn → Dàshílàr).

Other examples

In the 1930s the Dravidian language Badaga had two degrees of rhoticity among all five of its vowels, but few speakers maintain the distinction today, and then only in one or two vowels. An example is non-rhotic [be] "mouth", slightly rhotacized ("half retroflexed") [be˞] "bangle", and fully rhotacized ("fully retroflexed") [be˞˞] "crop".

See also




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