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Guttural R

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Guttural R

Distribution of guttural R (e.g. [ʁ ʀ χ]) in Continental Europe in the mid-20th century.[1]
  not usual
  only in some educated speech
  usual in educated speech

In linguistics, guttural R (sometimes called French R) refers to pronunciation of a rhotic consonant as a guttural consonant. These consonants are usually uvular. Speakers of languages with "French R" typically regard the guttural and alveolar /r/ to be alternative pronunciations of the same phoneme, despite the articulatory differences. A similar consonant is found in other parts of the world, but in most other places it has little or no cultural association nor interchangeability with coronal rhotics (alveolar trill, alveolar flap, or alveolar approximant).

The guttural rhotic is the usual form of the rhotic consonant in most of what is now France, French-speaking Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the southernmost parts of Sweden and Norway, and is frequent in the Netherlands, Dutch-speaking Belgium and Switzerland. It also occurs as the normal pronunciation of one of two rhotic phonemes (usually replacing an older alveolar trill) in most of Portugal, all of Brazil, among minorities of other Portuguese-speaking regions, and in parts of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic (Spanish further also seems to be allowing the trill > fricative sound change that is now generalized in Portuguese, albeit in the coronal area, in the Andes).[2]


  • Romance languages 1
    • French 1.1
    • Portuguese 1.2
    • Spanish 1.3
    • Italian 1.4
  • Breton 2
  • Continental West Germanic 3
    • Dutch and Afrikaans 3.1
    • Standard German 3.2
    • Yiddish 3.3
  • Insular West Germanic 4
    • English 4.1
  • North Germanic 5
    • Danish and Swedish 5.1
    • Norwegian 5.2
    • Icelandic 5.3
  • Slavic languages 6
  • Semitic languages 7
    • Hebrew 7.1
      • Yiddish influence 7.1.1
      • Israeli Hebrew 7.1.2
    • Arabic 7.2
  • Austronesian 8
    • Malay dialects 8.1
    • Other Austronesian languages 8.2
  • Other language families 9
    • Basque 9.1
    • Khmer 9.2
    • Bantu 9.3
  • Rhotic-agnostic guttural consonants written as ⟨r⟩ 10
    • Inuit languages 10.1
    • Persian language 10.2
  • See also 11
  • References 12
    • Notes 12.1
  • External links 13

Romance languages


The French rhotic has a wide range of realizations: the uvular fricatives [χ] and [ʁ] (the latter also realized as an approximant), the uvular trill [ʀ], the alveolar trill [r], and the alveolar tap [ɾ]. These are all recognized as the phoneme /r/,[3] but most of them (all except [ʁ] and [χ]) are considered dialectal. For example, [ʀ] was once typical of a working class Parisian accent, while [r] is sometimes found in southern France, as well as increasingly less in North America.

Today in northern France, /r/ is commonly pronounced as a voiced [ʁ] or voiceless uvular fricative [χ]. [ʁ] is also the most common pronunciation in the French media. In much of southern France this guttural R has replaced the traditional alveolar trill [r], which can now only be heard among the oldest people.

It is not known when the guttural rhotic entered the French language, although it may have become commonplace in the mid or late eighteenth century. Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, written in the seventeenth century, has a professor describe the sound of /r/ as an alveolar trill.

In Quebec French, speakers from rural areas and older generations traditionally use an alveolar trill, as was the pronunciation that was likely retained after the French colonists in Canada were isolated from France. However, most urban Québécois and the French-language broadcast media have adopted the modern guttural rhotic pronunciation of Paris, perhaps as the result of influence by modern French media from France.

Generally speaking, classical choral and operatic French pronunciation requires the use of an alveolar trill when singing, since an alveolar trill is easier to project than any guttural sound, be it a uvular trill or a uvular fricative.


Standard versions of Portuguese have two rhotic phonemes, which contrast only between vowels. In older Portuguese, these were the alveolar flap /ɾ/ (written r) and the alveolar trill /r/ (written rr). In other positions, only r is written in Modern Portuguese, but it can stand for either sound, depending on the exact position. The distribution of these sounds is mostly the same as other Iberian languages like Spanish, i.e.:

  • r represents a trill when written rr between vowels; at the beginning of a word; or following /n/, /l/, /z/, or /ʒ/. Examples: carro, rua, honrar, Israel.
  • r represents a flap elsewhere, i.e. following a vowel or following any consonant other than /n/, /l/, /z/, or /ʒ/. Examples: caro, quatro, quarto, mar.

In the 19th century, the voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] penetrated the upper classes in the region of Lisbon in Portugal as the realization of the trill. By the late 20th century, it had replaced the alveolar trill in most of the country's urban areas. In the rural regions, the alveolar trill is still dominant, but most of the country's population currently lives in or near the cities. The uvular trill [ʀ] is also heard sometimes.

A common realization of the word-initial /ʀ/ in the Lisbon accent is a voiced uvular trill fricative [ʀ̝].[4]

The Setúbal dialect uses the voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] for all instances of "r" — word start, intervocalic, postconsonantal and syllable ending. This same pronunciation is attested in people with rhotacism and in non-native speakers of French origin.

In Africa, the classical alveolar trill is mostly still dominant, due to separate development from European Portuguese.

In Brazil, the normal pronunciation of rr is voiceless, either as a voiceless velar fricative [x], voiceless uvular fricative [χ] or a voiceless glottal fricative [h].[5] In many dialects, this voiceless sound not only replaces all occurrences of the traditional trill, but is also used for all r that is not followed by a vowel (i.e. when at the end of a syllable, which uses a flap in other dialects). The resulting distribution can be described as:

  • A flap [ɾ] only for single r and only when it occurs either between vowels or between a preceding consonant (other than /n/, /l/, /z/, or /ʒ/) and a following vowel. Examples: caro, quatro.
  • A voiceless fricative [x] [χ] or [h] everywhere else: when written rr; at the beginning of a word; at the end of a word; before a consonant; after /n/, /l/, /z/, or /ʒ/. Examples: carro, rua, honrar, Israel, quarto, mar.

In the three southernmost states, however, the alveolar trill [r] remains frequent, and the distribution of trill and flap is as in Portugal. Some speakers use a guttural fricative instead of a trill, like the majority of Brazilians, but continue to use the flap [ɾ] before consonants (e.g. in quarto). Among others, this includes many speakers in the city of São Paulo and some neighbours cities, though alveolar approximant [ɹ] is also common, not only in the city, but the approximant is the dominant articulation in São Paulo state, the most populous state in Brazil. The caipira dialect has the alveolar approximant [ɹ] in the same position.

In areas where r at the end of a word would be a voiceless fricative, the tendency in colloquial speech is to pronounce this sound very lightly, or omit it entirely. Some speakers may omit it entirely in verb infinitives (amar "to love", comer "to eat", dormir "to sleep") but pronounce it lightly in some other words ending in r (mar "sea", mulher "woman", amor "love"). This tendency also occurs in some African countries; but speakers in Rio often resist the tendency, pronouncing a strong fricative [x] or [χ] at the end of such words.

The voiceless fricative may be partly or fully voiced if it occurs directly before a voiced sound, especially in its weakest form of [h], which is normally voiced to [ɦ]. For example, a speaker whose rr sounds like [h] will often pronounce surdo "deaf" as [ˈsuɦdu] or even [ˈsuɦudu], with a very slight epenthetic vowel that mimics the preceding vowel.


In most Spanish-speaking territories and regions, guttural or uvular realizations of /r/ are considered a speech defect. Generally the single flap [ɾ], spelled r as in cara, undergoes no defective pronunciations, but the alveolar trill in rata or perro is one of the last sounds learned by children and uvularization is likely among individuals who can't achieve the alveolar articulation. This said, uvular or back variants for /r/ ([ʀ], [x] or [χ]) are widespread in rural Puerto Rican Spanish and in the variety of Ponce,[6] whereas they are heavily stigmatized in the variety of the capital.[7] To a lesser extent, velar variants of /r/ are found in some rural Cuban (Yatera, Guantánamo Province)[8] and Dominican vernaculars (El Cibao, eastern rural regions of the country)[9] In the Basque-speaking areas of Spain, the uvular articulation has a higher prevalence among bilinguals than among Spanish monolinguals.[10]


As in Spanish, standard Italian does not consider the guttural or uvular /r/ the proper pronunciation of the phoneme. But many northern areas which have strong French and Germanic influence use this form of /r/ as the main form of the phoneme as for example in Piedmont (Alessandria), Emilia Romagna (Parma), and in Lombardy too.


The Breton language, spoken in Brittany (France), is a Celtic language rather than a Romance language, but is heavily influenced by French. It retains an alveolar trill in some dialects.

Continental West Germanic

Many Low Franconian and Low Saxon varieties adopted a uvular rhotic. While many of the Upper German varieties maintained an alveolar trill (IPA [r]), many Central German varieties also adopted a uvular rhotic. The development of a uvular rhotic in these regions is not entirely understood, but a common theory is that these languages adopted a uvular rhotic because of French influence, though the reason for uvular rhotic in modern European French is not itself well understood (see above).

The Frisian languages usually retain an alveolar rhotic.

Dutch and Afrikaans

In modern Dutch, quite a few different rhotic sounds are used. In Flanders, the usual rhotic is an alveolar trill, but the uvular rhotic does occur, mostly in the province of Limburg, in Ghent and in Brussels. In the Netherlands, the uvular rhotic is the dominant rhotic in the southern provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg, having become so in the early twentieth century. In the rest of the country, the situation is more complicated. The uvular rhotic is common, but not dominant, in the western agglomeration Randstad, including cities like Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht (the dialect of Amsterdam usually has an alveolar rhotic though, but the uvular is becoming increasingly more common). The uvular rhotic is also used in some major cities outside of the Randstad area, such as Zwolle, Almelo and Leeuwarden. Outside of these uvular rhotic core areas, the alveolar trill is common. People learning Dutch as a foreign language also tend to use the alveolar trill because it contrasts better with the voiceless velar fricative sound /x/ in Dutch. The Afrikaans language of South Africa also uses an alveolar trill for its rhotic, except in the non-urban rural regions around Cape Town where it is uvular (called a bry).

Standard German

Most varieties of Standard German are spoken with a uvular rhotic, even though the first standardized pronunciation dictionary by Theodor Siebs prescribed an alveolar pronunciation. The alveolar pronunciation is used in some standard German varieties of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In many varieties, both with a uvular rhotic and with an alveolar one, the rhotic is often vocalized at the ends of syllables. Non-standard varieties employ the alveolar trill more often.


The upper/lower distinction also historically influenced the development of upper and lower dialects of Yiddish, the historic vernacular language of Ashkenazi Jews. As these Jews migrated to Eastern Europe (and later America etc.), they brought their particular pronunciations with them.

Insular West Germanic


Speakers of the traditional English dialect of Northumberland and northern County Durham used a uvular r known as the "Northumbrian Burr".[11][12][13] However, this is no longer used by most contemporary speakers, who generally realise /r/ as an alveolar approximant, [ɹʷ], in common with other varieties spoken in the Anglosphere.[14][15]

The Hiberno-English of northeastern Leinster in Ireland also uses a uvular [ʁ].

North Germanic

An alveolar rhotic predominates northern Scandinavia. Where it occurs, it affects the succeeding alveolars, turning the clusters /rs/ and /rt/, /rd/, /rn/, /rl/ retroflex: [ʂ ʈ ɖ ɳ ɭ]. Thus the Norwegian word "norsk" is pronounced [nɔʂk] by speakers with an alveolar flap. This effect is rare in the speech of those using a uvular R ([nɔʁsk]), though it can occasionally occur, particularly amongst those who have had significant exposure to speakers using an alveolar flap.

Danish and Swedish

The rhotic used in Denmark is a voiced uvular approximant, and the nearby Swedish regions of Skåne, Blekinge, southern Halland and southern Småland use a uvular trill or a uvular fricative.

To some extent in Östergötland and still quite commonly in Västergötland, a mixture of guttural and rolling rhotic consonants is used, with the pronunciation depending on the position in the word, the stress of the syllable and in some varieties depending on whether the consonant is geminated. The pronunciation remains if a word that is pronounced with a particular rhotic consonant is put into a compound word in a position where that realization would not otherwise occur if it were part of the same stem as the preceding sound. However, in Östergötland the pronunciation tends to gravitate more towards [w] and in Västergötland the realization is commonly voiced.


Most of Norway uses an alveolar flap, but about one third of the inhabitants of Norway are now using the uvular rhotic. In the western and southern part of South-Norway however, the uvular rhotic is still spreading. The origin was the city of Bergen.[16] Because retroflex consonants are mutations of [ɾ] and other alveolar or dental consonants, the use of a uvular rhotic means an absence of most retroflex consonants.


While the use of an alveolar trill or flap is generalised among speakers of Icelandic, a uvular rhotic is a fairly common pronunciation variant in the language, although it is usually frowned upon as defective pronunciation and compared to stammering and other similar speech disorders.[17]

Slavic languages

In Slavic languages, the alveolar trill predominates, with the uvular rhotic generally seen as a defective pronunciation. An exception are the languages of the Sorbian minority in Saxony, eastern Germany, which are typically spoken with a uvular trill rhotic due to German influence. The uvular rhotic may also be found in a small minority in Silesia and other German-influenced regions of Poland and also Slovenia, but is overall quite rare even in these regions. It can also be perceived as an ethnic marker of Jewishness, particularly in Russian where Eastern European Jews often carried the uvular rhotic from their native Yiddish into their pronunciation of Russian.

Semitic languages


In Hebrew, the classical pronunciation associated with the consonant ר rêš was tapped [ɾ], and was grammatically treated as an ungeminable phoneme of the language. In most dialects of Hebrew among the Jewish diaspora, it remained a tap [ɾ] or a trill [r]. However, in some Ashkenazi dialects as preserved among Jews in northern Europe it was a uvular rhotic, either a trill [ʀ] or a fricative [ʁ]. This was because many (but not all) native dialects of Yiddish were spoken that way, and their liturgical Hebrew carried the same pronunciation. Some Iraqi Jews also pronounce rêš as a guttural [ʀ], reflecting their dialect of Arabic.

An apparently unrelated uvular rhotic is believed to have appeared in the Tiberian vocalization of Hebrew, where it is believed to have coexisted with additional non-guttural articulations of /r/ depending on circumstances.

Yiddish influence

Though an Ashkenazi Jew in Czarist Russia, the Zionist Eliezer ben Yehuda based his Standard Hebrew on the Sephardic dialect originally spoken in Spain, and therefore recommended an alveolar [ɾ~r]. But as the first waves of Jews to resettle in the Holy Land were northern Ashkenazi, they came to speak Standard Hebrew with their preferred uvular articulation [ʁ~ʀ] as found in Yiddish or modern standard German, and it gradually became the most prestigious pronunciation for the language. The modern State of Israel has Jews whose ancestors came from all over the world, but nearly all of them today speak Hebrew with a uvular [ʁ~ʀ] because of its modern prestige and historical elite status.

Israeli Hebrew

Many Jewish immigrants to Israel spoke a variety of Arabic in their countries of origin and pronounced the Hebrew rhotic as an alveolar tap [ɾ], similar to Arabic ر rāʾ . Gradually, many of them began pronouncing their Hebrew rhotic as a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ], somewhat similar to some Arabic dialects for pronouncing غ ġayn. However, in modern Sephardic and Mizrahi poetry and folk music an alveolar rhotic continues to be used.


While most dialects of Arabic retain the classical pronunciation of ر rāʾ as an alveolar trill [r] or tap [ɾ], a few dialects use a uvular trill [ʀ]. These include:

Though the guttural rhotic is rare in Arabic, uvular/velar sounds are common in this language. The uvular/velar fricative [ʁ]~[ɣ] is a common standard pronunciation of the letter غ ġayn, and the uvular plosive [q] is a standard pronunciation of the letter qāf ق.


Malay dialects

Although standard Malay uses an alveolar trill /r/ or alveolar flap /ɾ/, and the guttural r was rarely used in Austronesian languages, there are many dialects in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia that use voiced uvular fricative [ʁ̞] - similar to the French r and voiced velar fricative [ɣ]. These include:

~ Perak Malay and Kedah Malay are the most notable

The guttural r in Malay usually written as "gh". There are also, though rare, some words in Standard Malay which use "gh" that sound as voiced velar fricative [ɣ], e.g. loghat (Dialect); ghaib (invisible, mystical). Most of these words are usually Arabic loanwords that include letter غ.

Other Austronesian languages

Other language families


Standard Basque uses a trill for /r/ (written as r-, -rr-, -r), but most speakers of the Lapurdian and Low Navarrese dialects use a voiced uvular fricative as in French. In the Southern Basque Country, the uvular articulation is seen as a speech defect, but the prevalence is higher among bilinguals than among Spanish monolinguals. Recently, young speakers of Lapurdian and Low Navarrese are uvularizing the tap (-r-) as well, thus neutralizing both rhotics.[10]


Whereas standard Khmer uses an alveolar trill for /r/, the colloquial Phnom Penh dialect uses a uvular pronunciation for the phoneme, which may be elided and leave behind a residual tonal or register contrast.


Sesotho originally used an alveolar trill /r/, which has shifted to uvular /ʀ/ in modern times.

Rhotic-agnostic guttural consonants written as r

There are languages where certain indigenous guttural consonants came to be orthographized with r, giving the superficial appearance of a guttural R that may have never actually functioned as a true rhotic consonant.

Inuit languages

The Inuit languages Greenlandic and Inuktitut either orthographize or transliterate their voiced uvular obstruent as r. In Greenlandic, this phoneme is [ʁ], while in Inuktitut it is realized as [ɢ]. This spelling was convenient because these languages do not have non-lateral liquid consonants, and guttural realizations of r have become common in various languages of European origin. But the Alaskan Inupiat language writes its [ʁ] phoneme instead as ġ, reserving r for its retroflex [ʐ] phoneme which Greenlandic and Inuktitut do not have.

Persian language

The Persian language includes both the alveolar flap or trill, [ɾ,r], and voiced velar fricative [ɣ] (with uvular allophones [ɢ,ʁ]) as contrasting consonant phonemes. However, only [ɾ,r] is considered a rhotic consonant, and is written in the Perso-Arabic alphabet with the letter ر, representing a similar sound as in most dialects of Arabic (see above).

Normally, /ɾ/ is Romanized as r, while /ɣ/ is Romanized as q, or informally as gh. For example, the word قورباغه ("frog"), containing both phonemes, is pronounced /ɢuɾbaɣe/ and typically Romanized as qurbaqe or informally as ghoorbaghe.

See also


  • Grønnum, Nina (2005), Fonetik og fonologi, Almen og Dansk (3rd ed.), Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag,  


  1. ^ Map based on Trudgill (1974:220)
  2. ^ Palatal phenomena in Spanish phonology Pages 185 and 186.
  3. ^ Fougeron & Smith (1993:75)
  4. ^ Grønnum (2005:157)
  5. ^ Mateus, Maria Helena & d'Andrade, Ernesto (2000) The Phonology of Portuguese ISBN 0-19-823581-X (Excerpt from Google Books)
  6. ^ Navarro-Tomás, T. (1948). El español en Puerto Rico. Contribución a la geografía lingüística latinoamericana. Río Piedras: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, p.91-93.
  7. ^ López-Morales, H. (1983). Estratificación social del español de San Juan de Puerto Rico. México: UNAM.
  8. ^ López-Morales, H. 1992. El español del Caribe. Madrid: MAPFRE, p. 61.
  9. ^ Jiménez-Sabater, M.1984. Más datos sobre el español de la República Dominicana. Santo Domingo: Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, p.87.
  10. ^ a b Grammar of Basque, page 30, José Ignacio Hualde, Jon Ortiz De Urbina, Walter de Gruyter, 2003
  11. ^ Wells, J.C. 1982. Accents of English 2: The British Isles. Cambridge University Press. Page 368
  12. ^ Survey of English Dialects, Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland
  13. ^ Survey of English Dialects, Ebchester, County Durham
  14. ^ Millennium Memory Bank, Alnwick, Northumberland
  15. ^ Millennium Memory Bank, Butterknowle, County Durham
  16. ^ Chambers, J.K. and Trudgill, P. (1998): Dialectology. Cambridge University Press, p. 173f.
  17. ^ "Rætt um talgalla" [On defective pronunciation]. Morgunblaðið (in Icelandic) (Reykjavik). 6 September 1978. p. 4. Retrieved 4 October 2013. 

External links

  • Unicode reference for IPA
  • Article on the pronunciation of R in French
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