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In a few languages of Europe (French,German,Italian),these phonemes are in free variation. To my ears they sound quite distinct,but maybe it is because I lack sufficient knowledge about their acoustic properties and their auditory perception.I think the only thing they have in common is the "trill"of course,but I'd like to have a more detailed explanation. I apologize if the question is too vague.

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  • I can only speak to German [r] and [R] are realisations in different German dialects. Any individual speaker will prefer one or the other to realise "r". That must be what "free variation" is supposed to mean. Or they are allophones in certain dialects. Anyhiw, often it will be rather an approximant, fricative or a tap, etc. The trills are very easy to differentiate, if stressed. There might be some overlap between them, for special realizations, which I would naturally not notice. – vectory Apr 12 '19 at 19:43
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    I've never encountered [R] in Italian (except for people doing an exaggerated French accent). It is also my understanding that [R] and [r] in French are different regional realizations of the same phoneme (so not really "free variation"). Can you give an example? – Denis Nardin Apr 12 '19 at 19:57
  • @Denis Nardin Some people,however not the majority,from northern Italy use the uvular trill. There's even a small city where basically everyone uses the uvular trill. Some say it is attributed to french domination,but I am not sure about that. It's even rarer in southern Italy,but there are some people that use it.(I am from Naples and I heard at least one person pronouncing it with an uvular trill. In Italy this is defined as "erre moscia",however it mostly means pronouncing the "r" almost like a "v".The uvular trill is quite rare indeed in Italy but it is present. – X30Marco Apr 12 '19 at 20:12
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    Here's a map of European /r/ usage. Note that it's areal, not particularly linguistic. – jlawler Apr 13 '19 at 17:07

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