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30. The Representation of Rhotics

Richard Wiese

Subject Theoretical Linguistics » Phonology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184236.2011.00032.x


Rho is the name of the Greek letter <ϱ>, corresponding to the Latin letter <r>. Rhotics, a loanword from Latin rhotica , are thus r-like sounds. The use of the classificatory term rhotic from the beginning of Latin grammar to present-day linguistics implies the existence of a class of such sounds. However, the fact that this class is named by referring to a particular letter of the alphabet is telling, as will be discussed below. Languages or dialects displaying some variant of the phoneme /r/ in contexts where other closely related languages or dialects do not show this sound (such as syllable-final position in Irish English in comparison to Standard British English) are also sometimes called rhotic languages or dialects, as opposed to non-rhotic ones. This chapter will discuss rhotic sounds, their justification as a natural class in phonology, and related phenomena, first by introducing the class of rhotic sounds, largely by discussing their distribution in the languages of the world, and by discussing the justification for the term “rhotic”, outlining cases in which rhotics clearly seem to work as a class in phonological patterning (§2), in spite of the high degree of variability. The chapter will then proceed to discuss possible definitions of the class of rhotics in articulatory or acoustic terms (§3). Such definitions will turn out to be rather unsatisfactory, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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