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A number of years ago, I was working with some friends on conlanging for a fictional society. At the time, we didn’t know about IPA or formalized sound descriptions like “voiceless bilabial plosive”, so we just described our sounds in terms of sounds that we were familiar with.

One such sound was written ‘R’, and described as “the sound of ‘r’ in certain British dialects, where very sounds like veddy”.

How does one describe that sound formally, and what is the IPA symbol for it?

  • This description is a very common "American drama school" perception of pre-WW1 Received Pronunciation. See Dialect Blog's post. – Michaelyus Jun 24 '19 at 11:43
  • It is also very common (although progressively less so) in Scottish English and the English of certain parts of Northern England. – Michaelyus Jun 24 '19 at 11:48
  • @Michaelyus - It's definitely an American perception; the group I was working with at the time were all Americans, and almost none of us had any exposure at the time to "real" linguistics information. – Jeff Zeitlin Jun 25 '19 at 11:14
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The pronunciation of English /r/ is notoriously variable. "Certain British dialects" doesn't narrow it down much.

From the description, this might be an alveolar tap [ɾ]. This is the same sound used in some American dialects for the 'tt' in "butter" or the 'd' in "header" (or alternatively, the Spanish 'r' as pronounced between two vowels).

The description also might mean an alveolar trill [r]. This is a "rolled" or "trilled" r sound like is found in Spanish for 'r' at the beginning of words.

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    I'm fairly sure that we were not intending this to be the sound of Spanish "r", so my inclination is to redocument it as the alveolar tap, unless someone comes up with a better answer. Certainly, of the audio examples on your link to Wikipedia, the alveolar tap seems closest to what we were thinking. – Jeff Zeitlin Jun 21 '19 at 13:56
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    @JeffZeitlin well, the alveolar tap is also the "Spanish 'r'", just not the one at the beginning of words, but the one in the middle or end of words when it's not doubled ('rr', which is again a trill). – LjL Jun 21 '19 at 16:48
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    @LjL - point taken, though at the time, I believe we considered the Spanish 'r' to be trilled or "rolled", and that is definitely not what we were thinking of. – Jeff Zeitlin Jun 21 '19 at 19:01
  • Minor point - trilled r's also occur intervocally in Spanish e.g. carro vs caro. – brazofuerte Jul 1 '19 at 13:16
  • Yes, I was not trying to be comprehensive about Spanish phonology, just giving examples for OP. – Mark Beadles Jul 1 '19 at 13:46

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