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Discovery of the sunken consonant

2 May 12 | Re: Going beyond the three Rs

Still reading and enjoying Michael Rosen’s blog, for the most part. There’s been an interesting bit just lately about Roy Hodgson and how he says the letter R. I’m less interested in Hodgson than in something else Rosen points out: a way of saying R that I hadn’t noticed.

Rosen describes this as: placing your front teeth on your bottom lip or by pursing your lips to make a kind of 'w' sound, though many users of this do not pronounce the 'w' in words in the same way as they pronounce the 'r'. This 'w' way of pronouncing 'r' was common amongst some Londoners. We recorded a market trader in Hackney for BBC Radio 4's 'Word of Mouth' whose speech was like that but a famous 'posh' speaker who had this feature was Roy Jenkins.

He’s quite right, and I’d never noticed. Thinking about it, I’d associate this R sound mostly with some Londoners whose speech seems to be predominantly at the front of their mouth. Other characteristics of that type of speech are the L sound at the ends of words that also sounds a bit like a W, the dropped H, the glottal stop used for a T, and for some reason a slight hoarseness or croakiness. Also the distinctive pronunciation of words like ‘talk’ that Bob Hoskins used when he was doing the BT ads. But this R sound, now I’ve had it pointed out, seems to tie that whole accent together for me.

Back to Hodgson, and while I agree with Rosen that there’s nothing wrong with the way he speaks, I do think the poet has missed an important point. People’s tendency to belittle the W-like R sound must have a lot to do with the fact that it’s associated with children: children often start off using it, and then switch to a more ‘standard’ R when they get older. Therefore, many people associate that R with childishness, and I think it’s largely the incongruity that arises when adults use it that causes it to be looked down on.

Posted by MARFA PETROVNA at 13:33

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