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English Pronunciation: More on Why So Many “r”s in English

English Pronunciation: More on Why So Many “r”s in English

Recall from the last blog that we discussed why there are so many “r”s in English.

That leads to the next question:  Is there a logical reason or a physiological reason why the English language would use the “r” physiological movement in so many words?  (Speech is movement of muscles.)

I think the reason may be found in the “r” production in many languages.    In so many languages (but not American English), the “r” is produced by moving the tongue just a little bit from its position for the preceding vowel or is produced by making a kind of vowel sound.  To most ears, the “r” sounds like another brief vowel. In speech vocabulary, we call that sound  a “schwa.”

Thus for many languages, the “r” is made in an efficient manner.  The brain tells the tongue muscles “just move the tongue muscles just a little bit,” and voila, “you have a different sound.”

But for American English, we took the production of the “r” one step further, and made it substantially different than the “r” of other languages.

My theory is that by changing the production of “r” to the clear American English “r,” speakers made it easier for the listeners to determine that they were hearing an “r” and not  just a prolonged vowel sound.   As the English language expanded with all the new vocabularies of the last 100 years which include science and technology vocabularies, it became very important to distinguish the “r” from just an additional vowel sound.

Thus, all those words with “r” in the root part of the word AND all those additional words which had “r” in prefixes and suffixes were easier to hear and process in the listener’s human brain. That meant that the words were more accurately processed by listeners.  And it is critical that we accurately communicate information.  We have so much information to communicate to people, we also want it to be relatively easy for them to clearly understand our words and meanings. 

These days we have additional reason to speak the “r” and English clearly.  That’s because people who speak English are frequently speaking with listeners who don’t have English as their first language, and those listeners are already struggling to understand all of what we are saying.

To accurately say the clear American English “r” is indeed difficult. But do the mastery.  The gain for communication is so good!

Here is the take home message for you:

Because such a large percentage of English words have “r”s in them, master the clear American English “r”, and you will vastly improve your listeners’ understanding your words and message!

PS Count the number of words in the last sentence that had “r”, and you will get a real life example of the power of the “r.”

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Be sure to watch our English Speech Tips videos and Accent Reduction Tip videos  for more English pronunciation and accent reduction exercises.

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