Re: Balto and Slavic Rs.

From: Sergejus Tarasovas
Message: 2000
Date: 2000-04-02

Dear Mark,
I'm a native speaker of Russian, and Lithuanian is my second language (and my native-speaking wife says I speak with no accent :), so I'll dare comment this native-speaker's remark.
Of course he (or she) is wrong and seemes to be not much into phonology. Your American alveolar flap is far away from vibrant (rolled) [r] which we find in Russian and Lithuanian (with no phonetic differencies between them in that point), as well as in other Slavic languages. The standard practical recommendation the teachers of American dialect give to the speakers of Russian and Lithuanian is to try to pronounce 'weak d' in words like city etc, and that's exactly the sound my Russian ear hears here.
The reason of involving R/L [r] here by this person with his rather mysterious glottopsychological idiosyncrasy could be that this sound, being extremely weakened, may lose its vibrant characteristics and begin to resemble something like Japanese [r] or even sound close to 'hard' [l], and it's not far away from alveolar flap now. But such a weakening is extremely unnatural thing both in R and L even in allegro forms, and is considered to be rather speech defect (like those with child).
 This is somewhat off topic, but a native-speaker of Lithuanian made this comment on another forum which I follow:
Yes, a clear Russian or Lithuanian "r" can be heard in "shutup" so I make use of it when trying to imitate native speakers.
The context is how English tends to 'drop' certain internal and word-final Ts and Ds, making 'shut up' sound (to an eye spelling) something like shuh-up, shaw-up.  The same thing can happen with -nt- and -nd- though nasalization is the cause of the apparent disappearance.
Most native-speakers of my particular brand of AmE (Northern Midlands with some California, and New York) actually move the tongue into position for the T or D, and even make the connection with the alveolar ridge, but it is nonetheless often inaudible. It's the 'tap' which makes 'ladder' and 'latter' homophones, or makes 'internet' sound like 'inner net' to an untrained ear.
I'm curious about this Lithuanian or Russian, R, however. Any comments from the Balto-Slavicists? There seems to be a lesson in phonology here, and what might happen in an adstratal context.
Mark. Home: - Simplifying group communications