The Wikipedia entry on rhotic and non-rhotic accents gives a pretty good overview of which countries and states are rhotic or non-rhotic. What I want to know is what the pattern (or link) between the rhotic countries and states is, or even if such a link exists.

Regardless of any link, why is it distributed the way it is? What are the factors lying behind the development of the rhoticity?

  • 2
    Hi, Anton! It would be awesome if you could expand your question a bit. I assume you have done some research on the topic (at least the Wikipedia page on rhotic and non-rhotic accents). What have you found so far? Is there any specific point you would like to explore in more detail? Mar 13, 2013 at 0:19
  • Well the wikipedia page gives us a pretty good overview of which countries and states are rhotic or non-rhotic. What I am missing is some sort of pattern (or link) between the rhotic countries and states, or maybe they are not even linked. Whatever the case may be - why is it distributed the way it is? What are the factors lying behind the development of the rhoticity? Mar 13, 2013 at 10:32
  • It is hardly ever possible to find reasons why particularly language changes have affected particular areas and not others, apart from the obvious geographical (eg proximity) and historical (eg migration) reasons.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 14, 2013 at 23:58
  • What about prestige? Could the reason why rhoticity has spread among varieties of English be because of the fact that it was considered to be prestigious to have an rhotic accent when Britain colonized the US. Because after the colonization had happened, rhoticity was still pronounced in BrE, and it was then considered to be prestigious. Therefore, some varieties in AmE developed this feature. This is also what happened in other varieties of English: South Africa for instance. Mar 22, 2013 at 13:47

2 Answers 2


Rhoticity distribution in the US has both historical and social reasons. The first-found colonies in the North (New Hampshire, Mass., Connecticut, Rhode Island) and South (Maryland, Georgia, N&S Carolina, Virginia) were non-rhotic right from the start, because the English who settled there came from regions which at that time were already non-rhotic (esp. London and Middle-England). Moreover, they stayed in touch with they home country so that their non-rhotic accent was kept alive. The Midland American English Founder colonies, however (Pennsylanvia, Delaware, NY, New Jersey) was settled by nonstandard-speaking people from Northengland, Scotland and Ireland, thus a rhotic region separated non-rhotic southern and northern founder states. These rhotic states played a major role during the westward movement, so that most of the US became rhotic and has remained so until nowadays.

Yet for a fact, rhoticity is viewed differently in different parts of the US: There are still some relic areas in the South in which postvocalic [r] is socially marked. In non-rhotic New York, however, rhoticity has gained prestige and is increasingly used by young and upwardly mobile people (LABOV 1966).

  • Welcome to SE Linguistics and thank you for your answer! I was wondering whether you could provide any references for your claim that the first settlers in the American Northeast were non-rhotic. The literature I know usually claims that they were rhotic and only later switched to a non-rhotic accent.
    – robert
    Aug 25, 2013 at 11:30

The sources I have read and heard claimed that /r/-dropping in English began after the colonization of the US, and that /r/-dropping later started in London, and spread thence to the port-cities of the US (Boston, New York City, Charleston, Savannah). I learned this in my phonology-class in grad-school, and I have seen sources since then that agreed with it (I will attempt to dig some up if desired), although the exact time-frame claimed for the spread of non-rhoticity in Britain varied from the 1770's to the 1820's.

BTW, /r/-dropping in the Southeastern US is almost gone now. I'm 45, and I just have it in stressless clusters like "horror" > "horra", while my daughter pronounces every /r/ everywhere. Contrast this to what's left of my grandparents' generation from the Florida/Georgia border, who are full /r/-droppers.

  • See also this question on ELU. Jun 27, 2015 at 15:35
  • 1
    @ Alain Pannetier: Thanks. There's a body of research into the original pronunciation of Shakespeare. British linguist David Crystal and his son Ben Crystal (who is an actor) have done work into this as a team. Here's a video the 2 of them made on the subject: youtube.com/watch?v=gPlpphT7n9s. At 4:07, pronunciation of Shakespearian /r/ is discussed. Jun 28, 2015 at 18:38
  • Yes you can hear the "r" is distinctly more rhotic. Also h-dropping and the way he David Crystal sounds musician or invention is much closer to the French pronunciation (of then). Thanks for this link. Jun 28, 2015 at 20:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.