Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Th_ee mo_e obse_vations on the missing __

1. Contrary to what I implied in my posting of August 20 ("The R in English Literature"), dialects that drop the R in words like "hard" or "father"--such dialects, I have recently learned, are called "non-rhotic"--are apparently not universal in Britain. There are still some rhotic speakers in the west of England and in Scotland. Of course, many features of American speech, and culture in general, that we think of as differentiating us from the British can be traced back to particular regions in Britain whence the settlers of America came.

Rhotic dialects in England are disappearing under the pressure of the higher social status of standard pronunciation, just as non-rhotic dialects are in the U.S. There's an interesting research question here: In the U.S., a strong non-rhotic Boston or New York accent marks one as being of lower social or intellectual status, but a non-rhotic British accent is a mark of higher status, and is often even considered affected. This presumably goes back to an American sense of cultural inferiority. What I wonder is how most people in Britain now perceive an American accent, and how that's changed over time.

2. People who listen to non-rhotic speakers in the U.S. often believe that these speakers overcompensate, as it were, by adding an R to words ending in a vowel. Thus, my brother-in-law jokes that his relatives refer to his cousin Marla as "Mahler." As far as I can tell, though, this is generally not true; the R is inserted only between two vowels. There is a startlingly clear demonstration on Geoff and Maria Muldaur's Pottery Pie album, when Maria, a native of New York, sings "Georgia On My Mind":

Georgia, Georgia,
The whole day through
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgeron my mind, Georgeron my mind...

Oddly, or not, this is where non-rhotic speakers usually preserve a real R. Incidentally, Gregg Allman used to listen to a continuous tape loop of Amos Garrett's guitar solo on this track. Just thought I'd mention that.

3. A non-rhotic children's joke:

What did the chick say when the hen laid an orange?
 "Hey! Look at the orange marmalade!"

1 comment:

  1. What about the Kennedys from Boston? An exception to the class rule?