09 November 2010

Linking [r]

In British English, we do not usually have an /r/ at the end of a word. But if the next word begins with a vowel, a word-final 'r' may be pronounced as what we call a 'linking [r]'. As a result, "four eggs" may be pronounced as [fɔːregz].

However, there is a question of whether this linking [r] is identical to a full /r/. For example, is "your eyes" pronounced exactly the same as "your rise"? Are both pronounced as [jɔːraɪz]? Or is the linking [r] that can occur at the end of your a bit less prominent than the initial /r/ that occurs in rise?

I was reminded of this when I was discussing translation with a colleague, and I suggested that one day automatic interpretation might be possible, perhaps with a device just like the bablefish that is described in Douglas Adams' futuristic Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. My colleague said, "You just put it in your ear". Then, after thinking for a moment, he said, "Let me say that more carefully" and repeated the sentence with a pause between your and ear, thereby eliminating any possibility of a linking [r].

If "your ear" is said fast and the linking [r] becomes the same as a word-initial /r/, then the phrase "You put it in your ear" becomes a bit unfortunate.