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Mother

Daughter

Fork

Near

Bird

Can you tell me how the ''r'' sound is pronounced in British English?

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The IPA transcriptions for BrE are as follows:

  • mother - /ˈmʌðə/
  • daughter - /ˈdɔːtə/
  • fork - /fɔːk/
  • near - /nɪə/
  • bird - /bəːd/ or /bɜːd/

If you look the words up at dictionary.cambridge.org, you can press a button to hear the pronunciations.

There is no /r/ in any of these words. You may be interested to know that:

  • "Fork" rhymes with "walk", "talk", "hawk".
  • "Near" rhymes with "beer", "here"/"hear", "Sia", "Thea", "Priya".
  • "Daughter" and "mother" both end with a schwa sound (an unstressed central vowel /ə/), as do "India", "America", "Santa".

At the end of a word, /r/ is never pronounced - unless the following word starts with a vowel, and then a "linking r" may optionally be pronounced (but some speakers use a "linking r" even if the spelling of the previous word ended with a vowel instead of an "r" - so "America is" may become "America-r-is" for some speakers).

Disclaimer: there are a variety of accents in use in the UK. Some speakers are rhotic (they pronounce /r/ before consonants and at ends of words), but non-rhotic accents are much commoner in England (at least). Rhotic accents are less prestigious in England, and have been on the decline for centuries.

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  • An accent being prestigious in America is an unfamiliar concept. Do you mean a prestigious accent is one used by upper-class society? – Ringo Dec 18 '17 at 23:20
  • Every now and then, I hear a British person on National Public Radio (usually a scientist) pronounce all their R's as W's. I think the famous researcher/author Oliver Sacks spoke this way. Is this related to the rhotic accent at all, or is it something else entirely? I was trying to read up on it once and what I came up with was that Oliver Sacks spoke with a speech impediment and not any kind of accent -- but that seemed wrong. – Ringo Dec 18 '17 at 23:25
  • "Prestige" is a sociolinguistic concept (there's also "inverse prestige", which is when people deliberately adopt less "respectable" accents to fit in with more working-class peers). It's not necessarily as extreme as being upper-class. Pronouncing "h"s is more prestigious than "h"-dropping, for example, but you don't have to be upper-class to pronounce your "h"s. During the 20th century, rhotic accents became confined to areas of the rural southwest plus some areas of northern England. Since then they have declined further and have mostly disappeared from the north (though not from Scotland). – rjpond Dec 18 '17 at 23:30
  • Yes, I've heard some people pronounce Rs as Ws, but it's nothing to do with the rhotic/non-rhotic distinction. I actually don't know if it is a characteristic of a particular social or regional group or if it is a speech impediment (rhotacism is the name of the speech impediment - it looks very much like rhotic but is a different word!). – rjpond Dec 18 '17 at 23:32
  • Where I'm from, fork rhymes with pork, not hawk or talk. (The two speaker icons on this page illustrate this regional difference rather well.) – J.R. Dec 18 '17 at 23:54

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