Benjamin Kite — who I suspect was prompted by my last post — writes to ask:

I’m presently teaching spoken English to Chinese nationals and have been noticing the intrusion of an r-like consonant into words which contain schwas and other close-mid-to-open-mid vowels, especially followed by sibilants. Common examples are:

     “famous” /fe mɝs/

     “because” /bi kɔrz/

     “Christmas” /kris mɝs/

and sometimes

     “question” /kwɛs tʃɝn/

I’m trying to figure out when and where to expect it, but I can’t find enough consistency to predict when it will arise. Do you have any ideas?

Me, I have some relatively uninformed ideas. Anyone else out there know better? Please comment!

5 thoughts on “r-coloring

  1. Russell

    I’ve noticed this too. The first thing that comes to mind is the r-coloring that is distinctive among Beijing Mandarin speakers. It is common, so I hear, for those speakers to add an “r” sound after many words (mostly nouns, though I’m not sure). The suffix originally had a diminutive meaning (and still does), and its presence is lexicalized on some words for several of the Chinese languages, but in Beijing it’s being just being used all over the place. Phonologically this seems right too, as it seems odd to me (and my non-native intuition) to have this suffix after a word with a final high vowel.

    The Wikipedia article on Standard Mandarin has a line on it in the Accents section, naming the phenomenon 儿音 (er2 yin1), which seems legit – I’ve found pages on Chinese Google about the phenomenon using that word.

    Of course, if these aren’t (Beijing) Mandarin speakers then I’m out of luck.

  2. ruben van de vijver

    well, Germans speaking English do it too: they say


    I haven’t heard it in any other words though. But the becuarse phenomenon is fairly widespread among german speakers.

    Ans aren’t there English dialects where wash becomes warsh?

    Another thing Germans do: In both German and English Berlin is stressed on the last syllable. When Germans talk about their capital in English, they stress the first syllable.


  3. Benjamin Kite

    I think I figured it out. It’s because they are taught received pronunciation and are overcompensating.

  4. lance fulcrum

    i disagree with Mr. Kite. My students have never had a british speaker, and indeed the Chinese English teachers at my school r-color as well. The phenomenon, at least in the Henan dialect which is prevalent where i teach, occurs after retroflexed consonants “shi”, and “chi”, come to mind. 10, pronounced “shir”, and eat “chir”.

    i’m having a hell of a time correcting it, too. suggestions?

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