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When is an /r/ not an /r/?

Phoneme and variations: notes on the phonetics, further to Michael Bulley's 2014 English Today article ‘W(h)ither the /r/ in Britain?’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2016


These notes are largely based on Lodge (2009), and the IPA transcriptions on Wells (2000).

Michael Bulley has singled out for discussion one variant in the articulation of the /r/ phoneme in British English which he characterises as ‘w-for-r’, ‘close to /w/, but distinct from it’ (Bulley, 2014: 46). The focus is on /r/ in syllable-initial position, including /r/ in initial consonant clusters. He describes this particular, not to say singular, variant as ‘/w/-like’, which begs a number of questions.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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Bulley, M. 2014. ‘W(h)ither the /r/ in Britain?English Today 30(4), 4650.Google Scholar
Lodge, K. 2009. A Critical Introduction to Phonetics, London: Continuum International Publishing Group.Google Scholar
Wells, J. J. 2000. Longman Pronouncing Dictionary, 2nd edn. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.Google Scholar