Are uvular trills liquids?

The Tensor got a nice Chrissie present, in the form of Vox Latina, and in passing poses the question as to whether [ʁ] is a liquid. Dunno. Dunnisne? But it reminds me of a nice example of phonemic organisation (and/or orthography) potentially influencing perception.

In field methods earlier this year we occasionally mistook [ʁ] for an alveolar trill [r] (or the ‘flap’ which we are transcribing as [ɺ]). our consultant thought this was a bizarre mistake to make, as to him [ʁ] is not a rhotic. We pointed out that in German (at least in the dialect of the native speaker in our class) the regular realisation of is [ʁ], as in French. This also came up when we asked about ways to write ‘the three ‘r’ sounds’ – for our consultant, [ʁ] is just the voiced counterpart of [χ] and had nothing in common with [r] or [ɺ]. It’s true that /ʁ/ is occasionally a fricative rather than a trill, although the default realisation is the trill.

So I guess the answer depends very much on your orthography, and how the phoneme patterns in the phoneme system of the language.

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2 responses to “Are uvular trills liquids?

  1. We pointed out that in German (at least in the dialect of the native speaker in our class) the regular realisation of is [ʁ], as in French.

    It is for French, but for German, at least in my dialect (native speaker), the most frequent realisation of /r/ would be an uvular trill [ʀ], with the fricative coming in when I’m tired, speaking in a low voice, etc.

    A significant number of Germans (in particular from the South — Bavaria, Franconia, Swabia etc. just as Austria, of course) have indeed alveolar trills. They contribute to accent antagonism, with in this case the alveolar-trill dialect speakers looking down on those who have a “throat-r”. (The feelings of superiority go both ways, with a number of dialectal features of the respective other group being ridiculed.)

    My family is mixed-r, with my father and (late) paternal grandmother having a “tongue-r” (the alveolar one). My father used to be good at mocking the rest of us, who were stuck with a lower-quality /r/.

  2. An acquaintance who just got back from Brazil told me it found it confusing when Brazilians used a “voiceless R” that sounded like an [h] to him. I don’t know Portuguese, but I’m guessing he meant an uvular fricative [ʁ] – if so, phoneme inventory clash strikes again!

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