Friday 26 November 2010

intrusive r in LPD

And so finally to LPD. Rather than omit reference in the entries to possible intrusive r like EPD, or use an ad-hoc notational convention like ODP, for LPD I applied a notational convention not restricted to the matter of intrusive r. Namely, LPD divides “optional sounds” into two categories. Those shown in italics are “sounds which the foreign learner is recommended to include (although native speakers sometimes omit them)”. Those shown as raised letters are “sounds which the foreign learner is recommended to ignore (although native speakers sometimes include them)”. Put another way, sounds shown in italics may optionally be elided; those shown raised may optionally be inserted.

Since both categories are optional sounds, what is the basis for distinguishing them? You may well ask. It is covertly orthographic, though not only orthographic. The t segment that some but not all speakers use in mints mɪnts is reflected not only in the spelling but also morphologically, since the t of the singular mint is not a candidate for elision. In mince mɪnts, on the other hand, there is no such support for the plosive used by some but not all speakers.
Here is what LPD says about linking and intrusive r.

Since LPD, unlike the other dictionaries, transcribes in full the inflected forms of monosyllabic verbs, its entries for saw, -ing and soar, -ing are longer, more explicit, and therefore more complicated.
Here is the entry for withdrawal.A word on my own personal usage. I use intrusive r freely after ə, ɑː and the centring diphthongs, even word-internally, but never after ɔː. So I would readily put an r in china and glass, Grandma again and even in semi-nonce forms such as concertinaing, magentaish; but not in thaw out, sawing, withdrawal. Historically, I think this constitutes an intermediate step between an earlier generation (DJ) that still distinguished ɔə (soar) from ɔː (saw), with consistent r links after the first but not after the second, and later generations for whom the two categories are entirely merged as ɔː. You could say that those like me have the phonetic merger of the two categories but not yet the phonological (lexical) merger.

You may think that the theoretical underpinning of the distinction between optional elision and optional insertion is weak. In its defence I would say that it does nicely cater for (i) usage such as my own, consistently distinguishing mints – mince and sawing – soaring, and (ii) statistics such as those furnished by Hannisdal, who showed that in newsreaders’ usage linking r was found significantly more often than intrusive r, even though both categories are frequent.


  1. As a foreign learner of English I find this method more comforting (because it shows reality, hard though this may be) and less stressing (because of its simplicity).
    It's a pity there isn't anything similar for Danish (a neglected endangered language).

    Pacheco, from southern Spain.

  2. In case some of your readers misinterpret your reference to “... an earlier generation (DJ) that still distinguished ɔə (soar) from ɔː (saw)...” may I point out that in his Outline of English Phonetics, from its 8th edition Daniel Jones chose to point out that “... many speakers, myself among them, do not use the diphthong oə at all, but replace it always with ɔː ...”

  3. John, you've convinced me!

    Yesterday I was inclined to favour the OPD's level of information — albeit presented without the intimidating lists they use. But comparison with today's post set me reappraising how individuals use pronunciation dictionaries.

    I use the LPD for an objective view of words that cause contention among native speakers. I use the earlier EPD to see if there has been any obvious change over time. I've never looked up withdrawal or sawing because I know how I pronounce them and I know why others pronounce them differently.

    The vast majority of EFL students that I've taught would probably never use a pronunciation dictionary at all. They would get as much information as they could absorb from a standard learner's dictionary with IPA transcribed pronunciations.

    The ideal users, it seems to me, are a small minority of EFL students — advanced and specialising in the language as a subject — and a large majority of teachers who are not native speakers. For users like this, the mass of localised information at every entry is largely unnecessary, so the forbidding appearance does more harm than good.

    Much as I believe in empowering students to use linking r, I now see that this is something that learners will have settled on by the time they are ready to use a pronouncing dictionary. There are two very strong reminders: the orthography, which is the string point for consulting the dictionary, and the adjacent transcription for rhotic General American.

    Intrusive r at word boundaries is a matter of generalised habit. A raised r after every word final schwa is unlikely to affect the established habit of fluent or moderately fluent speakers.

    However, Johns's examples do persuade me that intrusive r within a word is another matter. Users may have established habits of pronouncing words like withdrawal and sawing, but it's likely that many of them are uncertain what they do, or uncertain why they do what they do, or are uncertain what to tell the students they teach.

  4. Linking r within a word, being obligatory
    I'm pretty sure I've heard "forever" without an R on BBC World News, in an advertising for a forthcoming programme (i.e. very slow, careful, recorded speech).

  5. Army1987 ...and accordingly the LPD entry for forever has the r in italics. You're right, and I noticed it too.

  6. John,
    The LPD entry for 'forever' with the r in italics is a most impressive testimony to your descriptive punctilio in recognizing non-linking non-r _even within a word_. I'm sure you're right. Descriptive noblesse oblige, but it's hard to imagine anyone being so terrified of 'intrusive' r that they would extend shibboleth status to a word-internal intervocalic r, which is what the spelling makes it, thus recognizing its different prosodic identity and distinguishing it as a separate lexical item from the expression 'for ever'.

    The LPD entry for 'forasmuch' also has the r in italics, no doubt for the same reason. Breathtaking!

    Although 'notwithstanding (that)' is so written, 'for all that' in the same sense is not, but even that inconsistency in the treatment of these 'for' expressions doesn't help me to see the spelling pronunciation fɔː ɔːl ðət/ðæt as any less extreme.

  7. BTW, is it necessary to mark optional epenthesis in each item when it can be predicted by simple rules? You could save lots of ink by writing in the front matter something like "ɑː, ɔː and ə can optionally be pronounced as ɑːr, ɔːr and ər when followed by a vowel in the same intonation group; m, n and ŋ can optionally be pronounced as mp, nt and ŋk when followed by a voiceless fricative in the same syllable" and so on, marking options in the individual items only when they are a lexical matter. On the other hand, this would be less easy to understand for less advanced users, but as David Crosbie said, those would be more likely to use a general dictionary than a pronunciation one.

  8. army1987

    You forget that many users are only concerned with the word that they are looking up. Their only reason to read the Introduction is to make sense of the conventions used.

  9. I've followed this discussion with avid interest. While I have nothing but deep respect for the many learned opinions presented here, I can't escape the notion that they're a bit removed from reality. We can deliberate this ad nauseam as theoreticians, phoneticians or teachers, but the fact remains that students are the overwhelming majority of users of pronouncing dictionaries. Doesn't it stand to reason that theirs should be the deciding voice in this and similar matters? A simple questionnaire perhaps, 100 subjects (3 groups of 25, with prior experience of working with a pronouncing dictionary + 1 group of 25 with none), might yield more impartial and objective results - which, I believe, is what we would all like to see (unless I misinterpreted the purpose of these three posts on EPD, LPD and ODP).

  10. Like Prof. Wells, my late English grandmother (born in 1927) consistently used intrusive [r] after [ə], but not after [ɔː]. I heard that she had a strong Lancashire accent when she was young, but after several decades living in the US, she affected a rather generic RP, retaining some northern traits such as resistance the TRAP/BATH split.

  11. In the LPD, the syllable-stress marker comes after the /r/. In the Cambridge EPD it comes before. Some other dictionaries go with the LPD version, others with the EPD. My own feeling is that, assuming the /r/ is pronounced, it is the fist sound of the second syllable. Are there two different pronunciations with the sounded /r/?


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