THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

14 July 2010

Voices of the UK - Rhotic accents

In the first or second post on the Voices of the UK part of this blog, we mentioned "speakers who pronounce the [r] at the end of words like 'car' and 'hear'." These are commonly classified as "rhotic" accents; for example most of the speakers of North American English are rhotic, as are those of Scottish and Irish English.

Within England itself, there are several areas where post-vocalic /r/ has been retained. The term post-vocalic is used because, of course, all /r/ sounds that occur before the vowel in a syllable (as in the words red and carry) are pronounced, whatever variety of English you speak.

The area of England that most British people associate with a rhotic accent is the South West, including (but not restricted to) Somerset, Cornwall and Devon. Recently we've been listening to recordings made in Devon, and in the Plymouth interview, all the speakers have /r/ colouring in certain of the vowel sounds that they make.

Have a listen to Karen from Plymouth and the way she pronounces the vowel in fart in this recording (we hope that readers won't be offended by the BBC's and our choice of this word in their online clip - Voices was a snapshot of real language usage in the UK!). You can hear that there is not a full consonantal [r] sound before the [t] at the end of the word, but the vowel is "coloured" by the rhotic sound.

However, older speakers in many counties of England also have /r/ colouring, as this example from Driffield in the East Riding of Yorkshire illustrates - listen to how Don pronounces the words worked, feather and farmer right at the start of the clip. Rhotic accents are becoming less common in this area but maintaining their strength in the South West.

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