Re: [tied] Pronunciation of "r" - again?

From: Patrick Ryan
Message: 41092
Date: 2005-10-07

Nice summary of developments.

My vote is for trilled /r/.

Why? The language that has best retained the Nostratic sound-system is
Arabic; and Arabic has a trilled /r/.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Andrew Jarrette" <anjarrette@...>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, October 06, 2005 10:26 PM
Subject: [tied] Pronunciation of "r" - again?

> Hi cybalist members,
> I cannot remember whether I already posted the question I am about to
> post now. I know I posted it on the "Ask-A-Linguist" site, and I
> believe it may have been this question for which I was directed to
> Cybalist by the "Ask-A-Linguist" moderators. I tried to do a search
> for this question in our message database, but I could not narrow the
> parameters sufficiently to weed out extraneous messages. Having said
> this, I probably did submit this question before, perhaps about a
> year or more ago, but I will submit it again because I still don't
> have an answer in my mind:
> What is the consensus view on the original pronunciation of the Indo-
> European phoneme /r/? Most modern IE languages have a "rolled"
> or "trilled" r, whether by the tip of the tongue or the uvula, which
> suggests that by numerical probabilities alone, IE /r/ was probably
> trilled too. But then where did the prevailing untrilled English /r/
> come from (the /r/ of almost all English dialects and accents with
> the chief exception of Scottish)? Is it a "softening" of an earlier
> trilled /r/? And why then does William Dwight Whitney say that
> Sanskrit /r/ "is clearly shown by its influence in the euphonic
> processes of the language to be a lingual sound, or one made with the
> tip of the tongue turned up into the dome of the palate. It thus
> resembles the English smooth r, and, like this, seems to have been
> untrilled" (He goes on to say that Panini reckons it a "lingual"
> while other grammarians define it as being made "at the roots of the
> teeth" which might suggest a trilled r, but no grammarian makes any
> mention of vibration). If an ancient language like Sanskrit had an
> untrilled r, would that point in favour of IE /r/ being untrilled? I
> know some have said that IE /r/ probably varied from place to place
> and person to person. But surely one pronunciation must have
> dominated?
> I have pointed out before (to "Ask-A-Linguist") that the development
> of /z/ to /r/ in Germanic and Latin suggests that the /r/ that
> developed such was untrilled, because /z/ and such /r/ would be
> linked in pronunciation by their continuant (non-obstructive)
> pronunciation, unlike trilled /r/ which has obstruction. This
> suggests that perhaps all /r/ were untrilled originally in these
> languages, since the /r/ from /z/ merged completely with other /r/.
> However, countering this is the observation that the initial
> sequence /wr/ which existed suggests that /r/ was trilled, since an
> untrilled /r/ would make the preceding /w/ practically inaudible (try
> to pronounce an English /w/ immediately followed by an English /r/
> (plus a vowel) and you will see that it sounds too much like
> simple /r/. Trilled /r/ on the other hand would make the /w/ more
> distinct). Also countering the first argument is the observation
> that /sr/ in Germanic and some other languages became /str/, which
> suggests that the obstruction of a trilled /r/ became manifested as a
> plosive /t/ after /s/. An untrilled /r/ would not be likely to cause
> such a change (and an English /r/ would probably tend to change
> the /s/ to /sh/ (/s^/), similar to how English /tr/ and /dr/ sound
> like /ts^r/ and /dz^r/ (chr and jr in English letters)) in my
> opinion.) Lastly, certain words in English suggest that English /r/,
> at least in some positions, was originally trilled: words such
> as "father", "gather", "weather", "mother" originally had /d/
> before /r/ not /dh/ (voiced interdental fricative). To me this
> suggests that it was a trilled /r/ that occasioned the change to /dh/
> (if you try pronouncing a dental (not alveolar) /d/ plus trilled /r/
> you will see that the /d/ tends to sound like /dh/. An alveolar /d/
> tends to get absorbed by the trilled /r/, in my opinion). So maybe
> English /r/ actually was trilled once like all the other modern IE
> languages', and only recently softened. Countering this possibly is
> the recognition that Old English back diphthongs before /r/ plus
> consonant ("heard", "heorte") suggest a pronunciation of /r/ that
> produced a back glide - probably a retroflex approximant, in my
> opinion. At least before consonants Old English /r/ might have been
> an approximant, while elsewhere it might have been trilled.
> Of course, these are only my personal theories. You may have seen
> them before, I probably did post these arguments previously on
> Cybalist. But I would really like to know what is the majority
> opinion of the original pronunciation of IE /r/: was it untrilled as
> in general modern English and as claimed for Sanskrit, or was it
> trilled as in the majority of modern languages? I am curious to know
> whether English is conservative in this respect as it is conservative
> in its retention of the phoneme /w/ in initial position. I will save
> any responses to this posting to my hard drive, so that I will not
> ask this question yet another time.
> Andrew Jarrette
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