Rhotacism may refer to several phenomena related to the usage of the consonant "r" (whether as an alveolar tap, alveolar trill, or the rarer uvular trill).

*the excessive or idiosyncratic use of the "r";
*conversely, the inability or difficulty in pronouncing "r".
*the conversion of another consonant, e.g., "s", into "r".

The term comes from the Greek letter "rho", denoting "r".


In medicine, rhotacism is the inability or difficulty in pronouncing the sound "r". The "Looney Tunes" character, Elmer Fudd (originally voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan and later by Mel Blanc), is notorious for his exaggerated rhotacistic speech ("Be vewwy quiet… I'm hunting wabbits").

Rhotacism is more common among speakers of languages which have a trilled R, such as Swedish, Italian, Polish and Spanish. This sound is usually the last one a child masters. Some people never learn to produce it correctly and substitute other sounds, like a velar or uvular approximant. R may be also realized as a uvular trill—a pronunciation usually known as "French R". It used to be considered prestigious in Poland, but now it is usually considered a speech defect.


In linguistics, rhotacism can be seen in a conversion of another consonant — for instance IPA|/s/, IPA|/d/, or IPA|/n/ — to the language's rhotic consonant in some environment or other. The most common may be of IPA|/s/ to IPA|/r/. [Harvcoltxt|Catford|2001|p=178]


The southern Tosk dialect (which is now the dominant literary language) of Albanian changed IPA|/n/ to IPA|/r/ while, for example, the Gheg dialects did not. [Harvcoltxt|Catford|2001|p=178] Compare:
* "zëri" vs "zâni" ('the voice')
* "gjuri" vs "gjuni" ('the knee')
* "Shqiperi" vs "Shqypni" ('Albania')


In Aramaic, proto-Semitic "n" is often changed to "r":

* "bar" "son" as compared to Hebrew "ben" (from Proto-Semitic *"bnu")
* "trên" and "tartên" "two" (masculine and feminine form respectively) as compared to Demotic Arabic "tnēn" and "tintēn" (from Proto-Semitic *"ṯnaimi" and *"ṯnataimi"). Cf. also Aramic "tinyânâ" "the second one", without the shift.

cottish Gaelic

In Scottish Gaelic. a prevocal IPA|/kn/ cluster developed into IPA|/kr/ often with nasalization of the following vowel as in "cnoc" IPA| [kr̃ɔ̃xk] ('hill'). [Harvcoltxt|Catford|2001|p=178]


In the čakavian dialect and kajkavian dialect of Croatian and many parts of the štokavian dialect, -"ž"- (Croatian letter for [ʒ] , voiced postalveolar fricative) between vowels mostly changed to -"r"-, e.g. "može" > "more"; however, this was not taken into the standard language, except in word "jer" "because" (< "ježe").

Germanic languages

All surviving Germanic languages underwent a change of intervocalic IPA|/s/ to IPA|/r/, implying a more approximant-like rhotic consonant in early Germanic. [Harvcoltxt|Catford|2001|p=179]


*"was" vs "were" (from Germanic *"was" vs *"wēzun")
*"lose" vs "forlorn" (from Germanic *"liusana" vs *"luzenaz")

Many people wrongly believe that, in Scouse, intervocalic dentals are realised as "r" when the stress pattern is "stressed vowel - dental - unstressed vowel" (i.e., "got a lot of" becoming "gorra lorra"). Mancunians and people from Yorkshire use this construction much more frequently.

The flapping of intervocalic IPA|/t/ and IPA|/d/ in a number of English dialects is a type of rhotacism. [Harvcoltxt|Catford|2001|p=178]


*"war" vs "gewesen" (from Germanic *"was" vs *"wēzun")In Central German dialects, esp. Rhine-Franconian and Hessian, d is frequently realized as r in intervocalic position. This change also occurs in Mecklenburg dialects.
*"Borrem" (Central Hessian) vs "Boden" (Standard German)


*"vriezen" vs "gevroren" (from Germanic *"friusana" vs *"fruzenaz")
*"was" vs "waren" (from Germanic *"was" vs *"wēzun")
*"verliezen" vs "verloren" (from Germanic *"liusana" vs *"luzenaz")
*"kiezen" vs "uitverkoren"

It should be noted that the degree of rhotacism differs greatly between the different dialects of Dutch.

Compare also Gothic "dags" with Old Norse "dagr" (from Germanic *"dagaz")


*"flos" (nominative) vs "florem" (accusative) (Old Latin "flosem")
*"genus" (nominative) vs "generis" (genitive) (from *"geneses", cf Sanskrit "janasas")
*"corroborare" vs "robustus" (verb from *"conrobosare")
*"de iure" vs "iustus" (from "de iouse")
*"ero" vs "est" (from "eso")

This reflects a highly-regular change in pre-classical Latin. Intervocalic "s" in the oldest attested Latin documents invariably became r. Intervocalic "s" in Latin suggests either borrowing, reduction of an earlier "ss", or the treatment of "d"+"t" into "s" ("videre"/"visum"). Old s was preserved initially ("septum"), finally, and in consonant clusters.

The English word "hono [u] r" is derived from French "honour", which in turn was derived from Late Latin "honor", earlier "honos", which became "honor" by analogy with "honoris" (genitive), "honorem" (accusative)


In Neapolitan rhotacism is seen in a shift from the sound of "d" to an "r" sound:

(Italian vs Neapolitan)

*"medesimo" vs "meresemo"
*"diaspora" vs "riaspro"

and, to a lesser extent, from the sound of an "l" to an "r" sound:

*"albero" vs "arvero"
*"ultimo" vs "urdemo"


In Old Portuguese, rhotacism occurred from the "l" sound to the "r" sound, as in the words "obrigado" "obliged" and "praça" "plaza". In contemporary Brazilian Portuguese, rhotacism of "l" in the syllable coda is characteristic of poorly educated speakers.


Rhotacism in Romanesco consists of a shift from "l" to "r" when it is followed by a consonant.Thus, Latin "altus" (tall) which in Italian is "alto" in Romanesco becomes "arto". In ancient Romanesco it also happened when "l" was preceded by a consonant, as in the word "ingrese" (English), but the modern way of speaking has lost this characteristic.

In Romanesco exists another kind of rhotacism: the shortening of the geminated "r". So the words "errore", "guerra" and "marrone" (error, war, brown) in Romanesco become "erore", "guera" and "marone"


Romanian rhotacism consists of a shift from intervocalic "l" to "r" and "n" to "r".

Thus, Latin "caelum" became Romanian "cer" and Latin "fenestra" becomes Romanian "fereastră".

Some northern Romanian dialects and Istro-Romanian also further transformed all intervocalic IPA| [n] into IPA| [ɾ] . This occurred only with words of Latin origin. [Harvcoltxt|Nandris|1963|p=255-258] For example, Latin "bonus" became Istro-Romanian "bur", as compared to standard Daco-Romanian "bun".


In Sanskrit, words ending in -s other than -as become -r in sandhi with a voiced consonant:

*"naus" (before p/t/k) vs "naur bharati"
*"agnis" (before p/t/k) vs "agnir mata"

This is not a case of rhotacism proper, since "r" and "s" are simply allophones in those positions.


Slovenian rhotacism consists of shift from IPA| [ʒ] (like in English vision) to vibrating IPA| [r] :

*"moreš" from "možešь"
*"kdor" from "kъtože"

Slovenian rhotacism is already visible in the Freising manuscripts, a written document from the 10th century.

The same shift occurred in single words in other South Slavic languages.

ee also

*Vocalic r



title=On Rs, rhotacism and paleophony
journal=Journal of the International Phonetic Association

*Crowley, Terry. (1997) "An Introduction to Historical Linguistics." 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.

first=Marc L.
title=Multiple Causation in the Spread and Reversal of a Sound Change: Rhotacism in South Slavic
journal=Slovenski jezik/Slovene Linguistics Studies
pages=63-76 http://hdl.handle.net/1808/803

title=Phonétique Historique du Roumain

External links

* [http://speech-language-pathology-audiology.advanceweb.com/Common/editorial/editorial.aspx?CC=47240 Curing rhotacism]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Rhotacism — Rho ta*cism, n. [Gr. rwtaki zein to use the letter r ([rho]) overmuch: cf. F. rhotacisme.] An oversounding, or a misuse, of the letter r; specifically (Phylol.), the tendency, exhibited in the Indo European languages, to change s to r, as wese to …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • rhotacism — 1830, from Mod.L. rhotacismus, from Gk. rhotakizein, from rho the letter r , from Hebrew or Phoenician roth. Excessive or peculiar use of the r sound (Cf. the burr ), especially the conversion of another sound (usually s ) to r …   Etymology dictionary

  • rhotacism — [rōt′ə siz΄əm] n. [ModL rhotacismus < MGr rhōtakizein, to make wrong use of the letter rhō + L ismus, ISM] the change of a sound, esp. (s) or (z), to the sound (r) …   English World dictionary

  • rhotacism — noun a) An exaggerated use of the sound of the letter R. But Im hungwy. A pathetic little girls rhotacismus. b) A linguistic phenomenon in which a consonant changes into an R, such as Latin flos becoming florem in the accusative case. For example …   Wiktionary

  • rhotacism — См. rotacismo …   Пятиязычный словарь лингвистических терминов

  • rhotacism — rhotacistic, adj. /roh teuh siz euhm/, n. 1. Historical Ling. a change of a speech sound, esp. /s/, to /r/, as in the change from Old Latin lases to Latin lares. 2. excessive use of the sound /r/, its misarticulation, or the substitution of… …   Universalium

  • rhotacism — Mispronunciation of the “r” sound. [G. rho, the letter r] * * * rho·ta·cism rōt ə .siz əm n a defective pronunciation of r esp substitution of some other sound for that of r * * * rho·ta·cism (roґtə sizm) a speech disorder consisting of… …   Medical dictionary

  • rhotacism — n. incorrect pronunciation or misuse of the letter ¨r¨ …   English contemporary dictionary

  • rhotacism — rho·ta·cism …   English syllables

  • rhotacism — /ˈroʊtəsɪzəm/ (say rohtuhsizuhm) noun the defective pronunciation of r, excessive trilling, or some other pronunciational peculiarity. {New Latin rhōtacismus, from Greek rhōtakizein use rhō (sound or letter) to excess} …   Australian English dictionary

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