AskDefine | Define rhotacism

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From Modern Latin rhotacismus, from Greek rhotakizein, from rho the letter r, from Hebrew or Phoenician roth. Excessive or peculiar use of the r sound, especially the conversion of another sound (usually s or z) to r.


  1. An exaggerated use of the sound of the letter R.
  2. Inability to pronounce the letter R.
  3. : A linguistic phenomenon in which a consonant changes into an R, such as Latin flos becoming florem in the accusative case.

Related terms


Extensive Definition

Rhotacism may refer to several phenomena related to the usage of the consonant r (whether as an alveolar tap, alveolar trill, or the rarer uvular trill).
  • the excessive or idiosyncratic use of the r;
  • conversely, the inability or difficulty in pronouncing r.
  • the conversion of another consonant, e.g., s, into r.
The term comes from the Greek letter rho, denoting "r".


In medicine, rhotacism is the inability or difficulty in pronouncing the sound "r". The Looney Tunes character, Elmer Fudd (originally voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan and later by Mel Blanc), is notorious for his exaggerated rhotacistic speech ("Be vewwy quiet… I'm hunting wabbits").
Rhotacism is more common among speakers of languages which have a trilled R, such as Swedish, Italian, Polish and Spanish. This sound is usually the last one a child masters. Some people never learn to produce it correctly and substitute other sounds, like a velar or uvular approximant. R may be also realized as an uvular trill—a pronunciation usually known as "French R". It used to be considered prestigious in Poland, but now it is usually considered a speech defect.


In Indo-European languages, rhotacism can be seen in a conversion of another consonant — for instance "s" or "d" or "n" to "r" in many words.


Albanian rhotacism changes "n" to "r";
  • ranë (from the Latin arena) vs rërë (= "sand")
  • Valona (from the Latin Avlona) vs Vlora (a town in Southern Albania)
that change [ took place in the 13th century] in the southern (Tosk) dialects, which now dominate in the literary language. The Northern Gheg dialects, also spoken in Kosovo, Southern Montenegro and Western Macedonia, keep the original "n". Hence "armik" (dictionary entry for "enemy") is "anmik" in Gheg.


In Aramaic, proto-Semitic n is often changed to r:
  • bar "son" as compared to Hebrew ben (from Proto-Semitic *bnu)
  • trên and tartên "two" (masculine and feminine form respectively) as compared to Demotic Arabic tnēn and tintēn (from Proto-Semitic *ṯnaimi and *ṯnataimi). Cf. also Aramic tinyânâ "the second one", without the shift.


In the čakavian dialect and kajkavian dialect of Croatian and many parts of the štokavian dialect, -ž- (Croatian letter for [ʒ], voiced postalveolar fricative) between vowels mostly changed to -r-, e.g. može > more; however, this was not taken into the standard language, except in word jer "because" (< ježe).


  • vriezen vs gevroren (from Germanic *friusana vs *fruzenaz)
Compare also Gothic dags with Old Norse dagr (from Germanic *dagaz)


  • was vs were (from Germanic *was vs *wēzun)
  • lose vs forlorn (from Germanic *liusana vs *luzenaz)
Many people wrongly believe that, in Scouse, intervocalic dentals are realised as "r" when the stress pattern is STRESSED VOWEL-dental-unstressed vowel. "Got a lot of.." becomes "Gorra lorra...". The truth is, you're much more likely to hear Mancunians, or people from Yorkshire say "Gorra lorra..." The only Scouser who can regularly be heard saying it, is Cilla Black, and she claims to have only started saying it, after hearing impressionist Mike Yarwood say it, when he was impersonating her on Television.


  • war vs gewesen (from Germanic *was vs *wēzun)
In Central German dialects, esp. Rhine-Franconian and Hessian, d is frequently realized as r in intervocalic position. This change also occurs in Mecklenburg dialects.
  • Borrem (Central Hessian) vs Boden (Standard German)


The Japanese language does not have a phoneme equivalent to the English 'l' or 'r'; the closest sound is referred to as an alveolar lateral flap. Loanwords with 'l' or 'r' in the original language are represented using this sound, and in romanized Japanese text the letter 'r' is used, regardless of whether the original was an 'r' or 'l' to begin with. Accordingly, Japanese people are faced with rhotacism-type trouble in pronouncing the letters 'r' and 'l', as well as difficulty in differentiating between the two sounds.


  • flos (nominative) vs florem (accusative) (Old Latin flosem)
  • genus (nominative) vs generis (genitive) (from *geneses, cf Sanskrit janasas)
  • corroborare vs robustus (verb from *conrobosare)
  • de iure vs iustus (from de iouse)
  • ero vs est (from eso)
This reflects a highly-regular change in pre-classical Latin. Intervocalic s in the oldest attested Latin documents invariably became r. Intervocalic s in Latin suggests either borrowing, reduction of an earlier ss, or the treatment of d+t into s (videre/visum). Old s was preserved initially (septum), finally, and in consonant clusters.
The English word hono[u]r is derived from French honour, which in turn was derived from Late Latin honor, earlier honos, which became honor by analogy with honoris (genitive), honorem (accusative)


In Neapolitan rhotacism is seen in a shift from the sound of "d" to an "r" sound:
(Italian vs Neapolitan)
  • medesimo vs meresemo
  • diaspora vs riaspro
and, to a lesser extent, from the sound of an "l" to an "r" sound:
  • albero vs arvero
  • ultimo vs urdemo


In Old Portuguese, rhotacism occurred from the "l" sound to the "r" sound, as in the words obrigado "obliged" and praça "plaza". In contemporary Brazilian Portuguese, rhotacism of "l" in the syllable coda is characteristic of poorly educated speakers.


Rhotacism in Romanesco consists of a shift from "l" to "r" when it is followed by a consonant. Thus, Latin altus (tall) which in Italian is alto in Romanesco becomes arto. In ancient Romanesco it also happened when "l" was preceded by a consonant, as in the word ingrese (English), but the modern way of speaking has lost this characteristic.
In Romanesco exists another kind of rhotacism: the shortening of the geminated "r". So the words errore, guerra and marrone (error, war, brown) in Romanesco become erore, guera and marone


Romanian rhotacism consists of a shift from intervocalic "l" to "r" and "n" to "r".
Thus, Latin caelum became Romanian cer and Latin fenestra becomes Romanian fereastră.
Some northern Romanian dialects and Istro-Romanian also further transformed all intervocalic "n" into "r". For example, Latin bonus became Istro-Romanian bur, as compared to standard Daco-Romanian bun.


In Sanskrit, words ending in -s other than -as become -r in sandhi with a voiced consonant:
  • naus (before p/t/k) vs naur bharati
  • agnis (before p/t/k) vs agnir mata
This is not a case of rhotacism proper, since r and s are simply allophones in those positions.


Slovenian rhotacism consists of shift from [ʒ] (like in English vision) to vibrating [r]:
  • moreš from možešь
  • kdor from kъtože
Slovenian rhotacism is already visible in the Freising manuscripts, a written document from the 10th century.
The same shift occurred in single words in other South Slavic languages.

See also

External links

rhotacism in Bulgarian: Ротацизъм
rhotacism in Chuvash: Ротацизм
rhotacism in German: Rhotazismus
rhotacism in Spanish: Rotacismo (lingüística)
rhotacism in French: Rhotacisme
rhotacism in Galician: Rotacismo
rhotacism in Italian: Rotacismo
rhotacism in Latin: Rhotacismus
rhotacism in Hungarian: Rotacizmus
rhotacism in Japanese: ロータシズム
rhotacism in Low German: Rhotazismus
rhotacism in Polish: Rotacyzm
rhotacism in Romanian: Rotacism
rhotacism in Russian: Ротацизм
rhotacism in Swedish: Rhotacism
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