In the phonology of a series of languages, /r/ exists as a trill, and is reduced into a flap in informal speeches or in a syllable-final position. Why is it happened to be a flap, not a fricative?

I tought it could be a fricative appearing as the reduced version of /r/. Besides, there should be a plenty of examples of sound change from [r] to [ʐ] diachronically. Below is my assumption.

The trill [r] does not exist in my mother tongue's phonology. In order to pronounce the sound, I need to send airflow from the lung with extra force, so that the force can "blow" my tongue to be vibrating, otherwise the sound will result in a fricative. Another thing I just tried is to pronounce an [r], and then reduce the airflow level from my lung, then the continuous pronunciation of the trill is over, replaced with a continuous pronunciation of a fricative. This shows, with other factors remaining unchanged, a weaker airflow would change the trill into a fricative.

Meanwhile, informal speeches and syllable-final positions are both characterized by a weaker airflow and lazier pronunciation. It seems thus plausible that /r/ would be realized as [ʐ] or some other fricatives.

As for the plausibility of [ɾ] being a realization of /r/, at least for me, the mechanisms of pronouncing [r] and [ɾ] are two matters. The former is about to blow the tongue with the airflow from the lung, the latter is just about to raise the tongue to hit the palatal quickly. Put in another word, I would never mix up the trill and the flap if they appear together in a tongue twist.

Based on the above mentioned, I would say that 1. Reduced pronunciation from [r] to a fricative would be normal. 2. Diachronic sound change from [r] to a fricative would be normal.

So, my question are, is my assumption reasonable? to what extent are these two correct? and does the realization pattern of different allophones of a trill-phoneme vary by native and non-native "prouncer" of /r/?

  • 3
    There are numerous known cases of [r] (or perhaps [ɾ], hard to tell) historically developing into [ɹ] or [ʐ] or similar sounds – Faroese and Polish are good examples, plus of course most varieties of English. I’m not familiar with any languages that have a similar change as a rapid-speech reduction, though, except perhaps some Scottish speakers of English who’d be more likely to trill properly in careful speech than in rapid speech. Why? A guess would be just because [r] and [ɾ] are more acoustically similar than [r] and [ɹ ~ ʐ]. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 8 '20 at 23:39
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    I think the perceived similarity between sounds is going to depend massively on when and how they were acquired. I also acquired [r] in adulthood (by moving [ʀ] forward) but don’t perceive it to have much to do with the lungs. For sounds acquired in childhood, our perception isn’t skewed by ideas we picked up trying to make them, and may reflect the position / action of the articulators better. From that point of view [r] and [ɾ] are very close. It seems plausible to me that [ɾ] would be a staging post on the way from [r] to [ʐ]. – rchivers Apr 9 '20 at 11:05
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    I have very little knowledge of Malay but there is an obvious difference between Malaysian and Indonesian dialects in that [r] is ubiquitous in Indonesia but more or less absent in Malaysia. I don’t know the history but it could have some relevance to your question. – rchivers Apr 9 '20 at 11:07
  • As for the examples of Polish, what is some source? – wodemingzi Apr 9 '20 at 14:39
  • Intervocalic z lenites to r (not r to z), as in Latin honos/honoris, because the z to r change is an assimilation: r and surrounding vowels are sonorants, while z is an obstruent (consonant-like). – Greg Lee Apr 10 '20 at 7:29

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