By "zero" we mean that
as unvoiced r when it occurs following p t or k at the beginning of a stressed syllable as voiced r when it occurs with a vowel following it as ZERO elsewhere (i.e. it DOESN'T OCCUR elsewhere !
in non-rhotic accents of English, r only occurs prevocalically - it only occurs when a vowel follows it.This means the /r/ can disappear and crop up unexpectedly in RP and other non-rhotic varieties of English. For instance it's not there in 'hear me' but it is there in 'hear everything I say'. The sound r does not occur unless a vowel follows, so it does not occur at the end of the word 'hear' unless the next word begins with a vowel. This is called Linking r.
It's not easy to account for this fact. Why, for instance, do speakers insert a linking r between the words 'hear everything' but not between the words 'see everything'? Simply because it's 'there in the spelling'? No, that can't be the answer, because children who can't spell, and who have no idea what the letter 'r' is or what it looks like, still add it after 'here' () but not after 'see' ().
On top of this, it's clear that there doesn't have to be an 'r' in the spelling for it to be inserted in speech. Look at these sentences:
When r is inserted in the pronunciation without justification from the spelling, it's known as 'Intrusive r' and it's often considered to be incorrect. But you will hear it everywhere in non-rhotic English - in fact there are very, very few speakers indeed who can manage to keep 'intrusive r' out of their speech without suppressing all their 'correct' linking r's a the same time.
Put the hammer in the box
Put the comma/r/ in the sentence
Carter always signs
Cuba/r/ always signs
The Czar often refuses
The Sha/r/ often refuses
Al Gore observes the law
The law/r/ observes Al Gore
fear - fear of it
idea - idea/r/ of it
star - starring
cha-cha - cha-cha/r/ing
pour - pouring
draw - draw/r/ing
In order to account for this, we need to assume the following rule:
Insert r between vowels if the first vowel is or or or
The first part of the formula means "zero becomes r", or in plain words "r is inserted". The second part, to the right of the slash /, means "when it occurs between one of and a following vowel".
We can actually improve this formula in several ways. The vowels are all the non-high RP vowels that can appear in this position, so they could be represented by the single feature "[-high]". Another point is that this rule holds whether or not the insertion point is the end or the middle of a word - it occurs in "wander off" and"China/r/ also" between words, and in "wandering" and "cha-cha/r/ing". To capture these facts, we could write:
where "#" means "word boundary" and the brackets mean that it is optional - so "(#)" means "whether or not there is a word boundary there".
So now we know why children who can't spell insert r in prases like 'Here and there' and 'Far away' - and also in 'Peter and Diana-r are coming' .
For further discussion, see on linking between vowels: j w r glides
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