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Consonants: alveolar trill

by Starian

There are many sounds that do not exist in English, yet they do exist in many other languages. One of those sounds is the IPA [r] sound. It’s a consonant sound, what means that the airstream is partially or completely blocked.

We have to remember that consonants themselves have other classifications, according to some elements like: the manner of articulation and the place of articulation.

The consonant [r] is alveolar because the alveolar region is the target of the tongue tip. And it’s a trill because multiple vibrations occur.

This sound exists in many languages like Spanish, Italian, Finnish, Catalan, Swedish, Hungarian, Polish, Czech, Basque, Lithuanian, Arabic, Tamil etc.

In the languages which use the Latin alphabet it is mostly found written this way: r. Although in some of these language the sound might be written rr (double R. In other languages you can find this sound written ρ (Greek) or ற் (Tamil).

Some other languages don’t have this sound as a phoneme, but they’re quite used to it for certain reasons (like, it being a allophone etc).

[…] well, some people in Brazil, especially in São Paulo and other states use [r] rather than [R] or [x] or [h] in words like ‘Roma’ or ‘carro’.

ULF (UniLang Language Forum), Bender

[…] there is a wide range of regionally different Rs in Germany. In some regions, it’s an alveolar trill […].

ULF, Saaropean

People often find this sound for the first time in major languages like Spanish, Italian, etc. Many times there’s a story behind learning this sound.

I learned to pronounce the alveolar trill when I started Modern Greek at the age of 15 or so.

ULF, Saaropean

I first learned that sound when I tried to imitate a Turkish accent for fun.

ULF, elgrande

This sound seems to be tricky to pronounce. I am a native speaker of a language with this sound, so I don’t have any problem pronouncing it. However, this sometimes is a difficult sound to pronounce, even for native speakers. Often I’ve found people who have had problems with this sound in their own native tongue. And others who simply can’t pronounce it at all.

[…] a Portuguese girl from the Finnish class, has got problems with this sound, there must be more people with this same problem.

ULF, pa-integral

I know people who can’t pronounce it.

ULF, bender

Most people here can’t trill ("roll") their Rs […].

ULF, Saaropean

[…] I do have problems with that sound. I usually have to stop shortly before I can make that sound and when I try to speak a bit faster, I often end up sounding [[Z] – or [l] – like or confuse it with the flap or get the tongue in a weird position which prevents me from making any sound at all […].

ULF, elgrande

When starting to learn Spanish, I couldn’t pronounce it at all, but lately, it got better.

ULF, Car

However, some people can pronounce this sound easily, though they still might encounter some difficulties when trying to, especially when there’s another consonantal sound before it.

I find it pretty easy.

ULF, bender

Well, I don’t have [r] as a native sound in my pronunciation, but I never had problems with it […] I guess I simply have always been able to pronounce it.

ULF, ekalin

I don’t use [r] in Portuguese … but I never had any problems to pronounce it […].

ULF, Luís

I can pronounce it now, but not always […]

ULF, Car

[…] when it follows an [l] sound, as in Spanish ‘el rato’, … my tongue can sometimes behave in weird manners […]

ULF, ekalin

I have frequently found Germanic and Asian languages speakers having trouble with this sound. I’d find a German pronouncing it as a uvular sound, or a Chinese pronouncing it as a lateral approximant. Also, once I met a native Spanish speaker who couldn’t make this sound, and every time she tried, she ended up pronouncing a retroflex!

It all might sound scary, but practice is the key to get this sound right. There are many techniques, you can start imitating the motor of a running motorcycle/car, you can put a pencil below your tongue and repeat words with this sound like that or perhaps follow these pieces of advice!

You put your tongue in a [d], [n], [l] or [t] position. Make the uppermost one or two centimeters of your tongue (but not the actual tip) touch the gum (well, that part up in your mouth where you pronounce most of [d], [n], [l] and [t]). Now you’re ready for the difficult bit. Push some air out strongly so that it flows over your tongue. But don’t leave your tongue static. Use the air to make the tongue vibrate quickly, like an annoying alarm clock: rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrin.

ULF, Saaropean[10:35]

[…] mothers put a spoon on their childrens’ tongues and get them to pronounce a “d” in order to train them to pronounce “r.”

ULF, zhiguli

I think the tricky bit is to feel how strongly you have to push the tongue against the alveolar region, if you press too strong or not strong enough, your tongue won’t make the right sound.

ULF, elgrande

Try them! Find out which technique works better for you. This sound might even help you in other fields!

In the chorus where I sing we use [r] to warm up our voice.

ULF, bender

We have told you about the theory, but how does it actually sound? Click here to listen to this sound.

Let’s see some words with that sound from other languages.

Roca (rock), Carro (car), Perro (dog), Rayos (rays), Marrón (Brown), Rata (rat), Rabia (rage), Tierra (earth)

Burro (butter), Raramente (rarely), Incorrettamente (wrongly), Rosso (red), Ridere (to laugh), Sorriso (smile), Birra (beer), Ragazzo (boy)

Piros (red), Harang (bell), Rokon (relative family), Répa (carrot), Túro (cottage cheese), Rák (cancer), Iroda (office)

Koira (dog), Peruna (potato), Huijari (cheater), Eurooppa (Europe), Kulttuuri (culture), Rakastaa (to love), Reilu (fair), Ruoka (food), Kirjoittaa (to write), Murha (murder)

Franska (French), Reservation (reservation), år (year), Rulla (to roll), Ris (rice),

rak (crayfish, cancer), żorżeta (crêpe georgette), chrabąszcz (cockchafer), ogórek (cucumber), rabarbar (rhubarb), rdza (rust), reasekuracja (reinsurance), rycerstwo (knighthood), Rosja (Russia), różdżkarstwo (dowsing)

přirozeně (naturally), rozdílný (different), Stara (old), oranžový (orange), růst (to grow), ruka (hand), ryba (fish)

Arc (arch), Arròs (rice), Ferrer (blacksmith), Torracollons (annoying –person-), Flirtejar (to flirt), Entretzanar-se (to become obstinated), Raó (razón), Mirra (Red and aromatic gummy resin), Erra (R the letter), Marrà (ram)

Erruleta (roulette), Erromes (pilgrim), Barruan (inside), Barrena (through), Lurreratu (to floor, to demolish)

Thanks to:
Ari Oinonen for the Finnish recording,
wsz (Waldemar Szostak) for the Polish recording,
Sklodowska (Jasmine Cadena) for the Catalan recording
and Travel & Language for the Swedish recordings

Prepared by Starian

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Originally published in Babel Babble