7

Czech has special sound which to me seems to be a voiced trilled r. It is written as "ř".

Wikipedia describes it a different way: A raised alveolar trill, and uses the IPA notation [r̝].

Czech speakers always seem to tell me that it's unique and that foreigners can never pronounce it. I actually can pronounce it though I have trouble with lots of other language sounds so for me it doesn't feel so exotic or difficult.

So is this a case of language pride or is Czech really the only language with this sound?

  • 1
    Can you give a more detailed phonetic description of the ř? A "voiced trilled r" doesn't say much, and doesn't seem very unique: almost all r-like sounds are voiced, and trills are extremely common. – JSBձոգչ Sep 21 '11 at 23:01
  • IIRC, there's a small amount of frication, but I'm not sure if it's an on- or off-glide, or maintained throughout the production of the trill. – Alek Storm Sep 22 '11 at 3:10
  • Well, I don't know if it's really that unique, but if the Slovaks can't pronounce it (and that language is pretty much mutually intelligible with Czech), then it must be pretty unique. [disclaimer: I'm studying Czech as a foreigner and I know many others in my position; we all have troubles with it] – VPeric Oct 9 '11 at 22:19
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    The many conflicting answers on this page are partially indicative of a difference in precision. Individual utterances of this sound will obviously all be different, if you examine them closely enough. Depending on your level of description and abstraction, you ignore more and more of the individual, idio-, dia-, sociolectal etc variations over a set of utterances. – tripleee Mar 15 '18 at 5:44
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    The way the inhabitants of Berlin pronounce "Wurst" is remarkably similar to "ř" for a my Czech ear. – Eleshar Apr 22 '18 at 13:59
7

Wikipedia has these two factoids; they are tagged "citation needed" but could be avenues of investigation:

This sound occurred historically in Polish, where it was written "rz", but it has since merged with "ż" [ʐ]. This sound is also used in local pronunciation of Spanish "rr" in region of Ibarra in Ecuador.

(source)

  • 1
    Yes I saw these after adding the wikilinks but answers from linguists are better than answers from Wikipedia anyway. I always pronounce rz like ř because to me I assumed they should be the same going by the spelling even though Polish people don't make the same sound as me. But hey there's enough other Polish sounds I can't make anyway (-: The Ecuadorian Spanish thing is interesting though. I've spent a lot of time in Latin America but never that far south. I'd love to hear it. – hippietrail Sep 21 '11 at 23:34
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    I liked the Polish one so much I asked an example question about it in the Polish Language & Usage proposal. – hippietrail Sep 22 '11 at 0:13
  • SPE (The Sound Pattern of English), as I recall, has remarks about a Czech r which they think (Halle, I suppose) may be an obstruent liquid. – Greg Lee Apr 17 '18 at 7:57
5

Another instance, though a sketchy one. At least one description of Tsakonian (I think it's Scutt, C. A. 1912-13. The Tsakonian Dialect I. The Annual of the British School at Athens 19. 133-173) commented that men's pronunciation of palatalised /r/ resembled "the Czech r". The pronunciation would have been unstable even at the time (hence the sociolinguistic split of men vs women), and all subsequent descriptions say it is simply [ʒ].

Greek-based practical orthographies of Tsakonian continue to write the sound as ρζ—just like the <rz> digraph in Polish, which appears to reflect a similar development. So "justice of the peace", Stadnard Greek ειρηνοδίκης [irinoðicis], was rendered in Tsakonian as ρζινοδίτζη [r̝inoðitɕi].

3

The Czech raised alveolar trill that is represented by ř in Czech orthography is phonetically quite unique. However, there are apparently certain Polish dialects where it exists as an allophone of 'rz' (See this listing on Wikipedia). This resource on Polish dialects (in Polish) gives a distribution of these dialects and suggests that the full realization is only sporadic and present mostly among the oldest speakers. I'm not sure of any detailed study that has looked at this from a truly contrastive perspective, though.

Although the prototypical phonetic instantiation of ř is voiced, it has a voiceless allophone which is acoustically quite similar to the Polish 'rz' sometimes leading to claims that Polish has the 'ř' phoneme.

Czechs are taught that 'ř' is unique to Czech (and some other little known language in Papua New Guinea) but again I don't remember seeing any study of this other than anecdotal evidence. Speech impediments related to the sound are called 'Rotacismus Bohemicus' suggesting that this may be a peculiarly Czech sound.

1

Actually, Czech people mean that it's a unique sound (believe me, I'm a Czech and a linguist), but it's not. There were at least "ř" in some northern Polish dialects, in Sorbian. It's usually said to be pronounced with two or three flaps, but some actual phonetic contributions have evidence that it's mostly one flap, rarely two flaps and very rarely three flaps (just because we're usually pretty lazy about pronouncing them) - so the same "ř" sound as for example in Spanish.

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    Which Spanish? I don't know this language almost at all but I was able to find a reference for a similar sound only in some American dialects, not in homeland Spanish. – Vladimir F Oct 6 '16 at 11:05
1

it's not unique to Czech. We have it in European Portuguese. It's written RJ in words like 'gorjeta' or 'sarjeta'.

0

The way you've described it so far sounds like the Turkish [r]. English speakers perceive it as a [ž] especially in __# positions.

  • I've been to Turkey actually and their sound is reminiscent of the Czech one but the Turkish one is more "whispery". – hippietrail Jun 15 '13 at 9:49

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