Why do r's or r-sounds get pronounded in words where they don't belong?

I’ve wondered about this for years – every time I hear Larry King pronounce a name like Donna as Donner, or a good friend of mine, who I’ve razzed several times for doing so, pronounces the word “wash” as “warsh.” Any ideas?

…and why they hell did I spell that “pronounded?” Jeez!!!

(Oh, I see…the “d” is right above the “c” on the keyboard. Easy mistake. Anyone could do it. Right??) :wink:

New England has a major R-imbalance problem. The people from Boston keep leaving them out, so the folks in Maine put them back in.

When I was studying in Italy, I had an art history professor who spoke fluent Italian, but with a Bostonian accent. Normally, Italians are very un-snooty about their language…they’re thrilled when foreigners are interested in learning to speak it. But even they would cringe to hear the way she pronounced things.

Piazzer. Basillicer. Italier.


It’s called rhotacism. r-insertion is a natural process. It happens to have perhaps a negative connotation in English because it’s specific to certain non-prestigious regions. But that’s just the way things went down here. In the Mandarin Chinese of Beijing, however, it’s the “in” thing to do! Saying “huar” instead of “hua” for “flower”, for example, makes you sound more sophisticated.

Since this is a linguistics question with a factual answer, I’ll move it to General Questions for you.

Cajun Man
for the SDMB

Thank you, Cajun Man. I debated the best location for this thread. I should have gone with my first impulse. :slight_smile:

I have to do it.

So why did Gore carry both states in 200? :smiley:

Goddammit, that’s 2000 :smack:

Could you elaborate, sundog66? I’m a beginning Mandarin student, and they tell me that adding an “r” to the end of a word changes the meaning. Specifically, it can indicate a location (identical to the apparently more widespread li) or a diminuitive. I’m not suggesting the two explanations are incompatible. I’m just curious about what you know.

In my opinion, the word-final rhoticism characteristic of Bostonians probably comes from (RP) British English, where the final “r” is only pronounced if the next word begins with a vowel. (This is my new caw (car). vs. My new caw-r is blue.) An American pronounces the final “r” anyway, and some (i.e. Bostonians) might generalize that rule (or “difference from Britain”) to all vowel-final words. On the other hand, American English is descended not from modern British English, but from an older version. So the British “r”-dropping and the Bostonian “r”-adding might be contemporary processes.

Oh…or maybe it’s Bostonians who don’t say “r” at all. I’m afraid my western Canadian education taught me very little about eastern American accents. Pretend I said something intelligent.

Thanks to everyone for some very interesting explanations. However, with regard to the Mass./Maine aspect of the answers, perhaps I should point out that Larry King (just as an example) is from Brooklyn and the guy who says “warsh” for wash is in Oklahoma.

As an aside, I remember years ago a British singer whose name I can’t recall did a remake of the early 60’s song, “Donna.” Listening to him sing “Oh, Donner…oh, Donner…” drove me crazy! :slight_smile:

Except JFK, who always said, “Cuber” with regards to the missile crisis, and “idear” when a thought occurred to him.

That’s not true – Massachusetts has a perfect Balance of Trade in Rs – they leave them out of a lot of words (“Hahvahd Yahd”), but then they stick them at the end of other words (“pizzer” – Pizza, that is – “sawr” – the past tense of “see”) It’s not just Kennedy with “Cuber”. They never put an “r” on the end of the “saw” that cuts wood, by the way, only the past tense of “see”. So maybe it serves a purpose.

The broad Boston “a”, by the way, isn’t pronounced “ah”, as when the doctor looks at your throat. It’s more of a broadened “flat” a, pronounced in the front of the throat, not the back. So the name “Mark” becomes more like “Maaak” than like “Mahk”.

Apparently it’s a feature of some British accents as well (even when the following word doesn’t begin with a vowel). I’ve heard the Beatles do it: in “Till There Was You,” Paul sings

The British also may add an r sound at the end of a word that doesn’t have an r, if it’s followed by a vowel sound, just like Bostonians do. “Asiar and America.” In fact, I was having a conversation like this with a Briton and another American, and the Briton denied he did this. So I asked him to say “Asia and America,” and he said “Asiar and America.” I said “see?” But he emphatically denied putting an r sound there, which was so obvious to us Americans. I suspected that it gets down to how Britons and Americans define what an r sounds like.

That would be Donnervan.

Yes, it does indicate location in that in turns “zhe” (this) and “na” (that) into the words for “here” and “there.” As for being a diminutive ending, this might be plausible, since the character (er) used to represent the rhatocism means “child,” but I’m pretty sure that today the diminutive impact has been lost (if there ever was one). Maybe there are a few fossilized examples, though.

My dad’s from New Jersey and he does the “warshing machine” and “warter” thing.
Unfortunately now my neice is starting to do it too. Pretty soon she’ll start saying “dunky” and “turrible” like my mom (she’s from Philly). Somehow I managed not to get an accent at all (living here in Florida) which my friend from New York says is a bunch of crap, I have an accent I just can’t hear it. And I say, then why do all TV announcers and people in commercials (for the most part) talk like me? It means I have an “American” accent, not a Southern accent, or a New England accent, or whatever. Right?

And then there was Paul McCartney in “Till There Was You:” “There were birds, in the sky, but I never sawr them winging…till there was you.” Absolutely ruined this song for me.