Note: Many English words have a letter /r/ in their spelling that is not pronounced in the standard British English accent. This is because Standard British English is non-rhotic. This means that /r/ is dropped when it follows the final vowel in a word. Some examples of words with no /r/ sound are: car, better, turn and world.
Why are these words spelt with a letter ‘r’ if no /r/ sound is pronounced in them? The reason is because the pronunciation of the English language is constantly evolving and accents change across the generations. We used to pronounce the /r/ in these words, but now we don’t. The /r/ sound first began being lost in some English words back in the 15th century. Slowly, as the centuries passed, /r/ became softened and was gradually dropped from more and more words.
In 1780 the actor and elocution teacher Thomas Sheridan stated that /r/ ‘always has the same sound and is never silent’. However, his assertion isn’t backed up by the evidence. Linguists know for a fact that /r/ was being increasingly dropped in the late 18thcentury; they can tell by tracing /r/-less spellings in documents from that time. What Thomas Sheridan had probably meant, speaking as an elocution teacher, was that he thought /r/ ought not to be dropped.
The loss of rhoticity from the standard British English accent was unstoppable, however. By the early 1800s the southern English accent had fully transformed into a non-rhotic accent. This accent eventually became known as R.P. ‘Received Pronunciation.’
Whether a variety of English or a specific accent is rhotic or non-rhotic is one of the biggest distinctions that can be made in English.
Non-Rhotic English Examples:
Standard British English, Welsh English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English
Rhotic English Exampes:
General American, Scottish English, Irish English, Canadian English
English Rhotic Accents Examples:
Manchester, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, the West Country
The pronunciation of /r/ following the final vowel in a word does not occur in the standard English accent. Therefore, knowing when not to pronounce /r/makes a big difference to the overall quality of your English accent. When you get this right, it’s as if you’re wearing an accent tuxedo and everyone else is wearing an accent tracksuit!
Practice Non-Rhotic English
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