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The rhotic liquid /r/
quickinfo

Features
A possible feature specification of /r/ is +sonorant, +rhotic.

Phonotactic behaviour
/r/ can occur in an onset on its own as in 1a, or as the second/third member of a cluster, such as in 1b and 1c. It can also occur as the sole member of a coda, like in 2a, or as the first member of a cluster, like in 2b. For some reason, /r/ cannot occur directly after /s/ ( /*sr/).

Example 1

Onset
a. ramp disaster
b. krant journal
c. strak tight
Example 2

Coda
a. ver far
b. werk work

A curious constraint is that there are no Dutch words (or syllables) of the shape rVr, with V as a B-class vowel, although there are several such words with V as an A-class vowel, such as the examples 3a and 3b. Words (or syllables) of the shape krVr, prVr, trVr, drVr do not exist at all. However, we do find broer[brur]brother.

Example 3

a. raar strange
b. roer stir

Colouring and lenghtening effect
Before /r/, A-vowels tend to get 'coloured' in the direction of their corresponding B-class vowel. Furthermore, if they appear in the same foot as the /r/, they become lenghtened.

Dutch /r/ is a rhoticconsonant with the place of articulation ranging from alveolar to uvular, while the manner of articulation ranges from trills, taps and fricatives (which may all be voiced or voiceless) to approximants and vowels. This variation is manifested both across speakers (geographically and sociolinguistically) and within speakers (allophonically and sociolinguistically) (see chapter below.)

Onset/r/ is usually either an alveolartap or trill or a uvulartrill or approximant. In Belgian Standard Dutch, coda/r/ is generally an alveolar or uvularfricative or trilledfricative. In Northern Standard Dutch, coda/r/ can also be an alveolar or uvular consonant, but is nowadays more often a retroflex or ‘bunched’ palatalapproximant (see below for more detail).

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[+] Articulatory information

/r/ in Dutch can have several places of articulation:

  • Alveolar: Speech sounds produced at alveolar place of articulation, between dental and palatal. See human speech organs.
  • Palatal: Speech sounds produced at palatal place of articulation, between alveolar and velar. See human speech organs.
  • Retroflex: Speech sounds produced at post-alveolar or palatal place of articulation with raised and/or retracted tongue-tip. See human speech organs.
  • Velar: Speech sounds produced at velar place of articulation (between palatal and uvular). See human speech organs.
  • Uvular: Speech sounds produced at the very back of the velum, close to or at the uvula. May include vibration of the uvula (in trills and fricatives). See human speech organs.

Furthermore, the manner of articulation can vary quite drastically within the rhotic sound:

  • Trill: Consonant produced with an aerodynamically-induced vibratory pattern.
  • Tap, also flap: Consonant characterised by a ballistic movement of the tongue toward the dental/alveolar region.
  • Fricative: Consonant involving turbulent airflow through a narrow channel produced by close approximation of the active and passive articulators.
  • Approximant: Consonant involving free airflow through a channel wide enough to preclude turbulent noise.
  • Vowel: Speech sound involving free airflow through an open vocal tract.


Figure 1: The human speech organs

[click image to enlarge]

[+] Acoustic properties of /r/

Alveolar
  • in obstruents, noise or noise bursts characterised by a centre of gravity above 5000 Hz. Second formant transitions into vowels come from around 1800 Hz, and both F2 and F3 stay flat or go in a downward direction.
  • in nasals, indicated by the presence of a spectral peak around 500 Hz and a spectral valley around 1 kHz.

Palatal
  • in obstruents, noise or noise bursts characterised by a centre of gravity around 4700 Hz. Second formant transitions into vowels come from around 2000 Hz, and go in a downward direction for most vowels. F3 is lower than in alveolars.
  • in sonorants, formant structure characterised by a relatively high F2.

Retroflex
  • in obstruents, noise or noise bursts characterised by a centre of gravity around 4500 Hz. Second formant transitions into vowels come from around 2200 Hz, and go in a downward direction. F3 is low, close to F2.
  • in sonorants, formant structure characterised by a relatively high F2 and low F3, to the point where the two approach each other.

Velar
  • in obstruents, noise or noise bursts characterised by a relatively low centre of gravity (typically around 4200 Hz), an acute noise peak at low frequency (below 2 kHz) and one or more additional ones. Formant transitions into neighbouring vowels go downward for F2 (coming from around 3000 Hz), and flat or upward for F3.
  • in sonorants, formant structure characterised by a relatively high F2 and low F3, to the point where the two approach each other.

Uvular
  • in obstruents, noise characterised by a low centre of gravity (around 4200 Hz) and a formant-like structure. Spectral peaks around 1500 Hz, and a spectral valley around 2500 Hz.
  • in sonorants, formant structure characterised by a lower F2 than velars, and a relatively high F3.

Trill
  • consonant produced with an aerodynamically-induced vibratory pattern.

Tap, also flap
  • consonant characterised by a ballistic movement of the tongue toward the dental/alveolar region.

Fricative
  • consonant involving aperiodic energy (noise)

Approximant
  • consonant involving free airflow through a channel wide enough to preclude turbulent noise.

Vowel
  • speech sound involving free airflow through an open vocal tract.

The acoustics of Dutch /r/ vary along with its articulation. Short descriptions of the major allophones are as follows (descriptions from Sebregts 2014 unless otherwise indicated):

  • In onsets, has alternating open and closed phases: the open phases are vowel-like, with either the formant pattern of a central vowel (schwa ) or that of the vowel following the trill. The closed phases are brief silences. The open and closed phases are roughly equally long, around 17ms. In other words, trills have a frequency of around 30 Hz (Tops 2009). In codas, trills are often devoiced, and the silences have a fricative release.
  • In onsets, these show a brief closure, preceded by a vowel-like portion which can be substantially longer than the closure (up to 70ms and 20ms, respectively). In codas, the tap may be followed by a brief vocalic portion, or it may be devoiced and weakly fricated.
  • In onsets, characterised by high-frequency noise (around 5000 Hz and above) in combination with approximant-like formant structure. Is generally voiceless in codas, and consequently more like a normal fricative (lacking formant structure).
  • In onsets and codas, characterised by noise with a low-frequency spectral peak (around 2000 Hz), and several at higher frequencies. Is usually voiceless, especially in codas.
  • In onsets and codas, characterised by a general weakening of all formants, with little formant structure of its own.
  • A coda variant characterised by strong, vowel-like formants, specifically a high F2 and a low F3, to the point where the two approach each other.
  • Coda variant with no evidence of consonantal constriction; most usually takes the form of a schwa -like vowel offglide.
[+] Examples

Table 1: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Northern Standard Dutch /r/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
hij had een lange reis gemaakthe had done a long journey word-initial
[click image to enlarge]
om naar terug te kerento come back to intervocalic
[click image to enlarge]
een beer die heel wat had meegemaakta bear that had been through a lot word-final
[click image to enlarge]

Table 2: Soundfiles, waveforms and spectrograms of the above sound files, with indications of the relevant acoustic parameters of Northern Standard Dutch /r/
wordgroup phonological context soundfile waveform/spectogram
op je reis naar gezondheidon your journey to health word-initial
[click image to enlarge]
beide keren had ik gelukboth times I was lucky intervocalic
[click image to enlarge]
precies de omtrek van een beerright the contour of a bear word-final
[click image to enlarge]
[+] Intra- and interspeaker variation

The realisation of  /r/ displays considerable intra- and interspeaker variation within Standard Dutch. The most important manifestations of intra- and interspeaker variation are allophonic and geographical, respectively, and are discussed below.

Place of articulation
Place of articulation of onset /r/ is usually either alveolar or uvular. In Belgian Standard Dutch, alveolar is considered more standard (Van de Velde 1996), although uvular /r/ is making inroads and has some prestige (Verhoeven 2005). In Northern Standard Dutch, there appears to be no difference in the evaluation of uvular and alveolar /r/, but uvular /r/ may be on the rise ( (Vieregge and Broeders 1993, Van de Velde 1996, Van de Velde 1998, Smakman 2006, Sebregts 2014).

In Belgian Standard Dutch, the place of articulation of coda/r/ is also generally alveolar or uvular, and speakers tend to have the same place of articulation for their onset and coda variants (Collins and Mees 1981: 169; Sebregts 2014). In Northern Standard Dutch, coda/r/ can be alveolar or uvular, but is nowadays more often retroflex or palatal, especially in the speech of younger speakers (Van de Velde 1996, Van Bezooijen et al. 2002, Van de Velde 1998, Sebregts 2014).

Manner of articulation
The manner of articulation of the onset /r/ depends on the place of articulation. Alveolar /r/ is usually realised as a brief tap, but may also be a trill (especially when word-initial), fricative, or approximant (especially when intervocalic) (Collins and Mees 1981; Vieregge and Broeders 1993, Tops 2009, Sebregts 2014). Uvular /r/ is usually realised as a voiced trill or an approximant, but may also be a voiceless trill or trilled fricative, or an untrilled fricative, especially following voiceless obstruents (Collins and Mees 1981; Sebregts 2014).

The manner of articulation of the coda/r/ depends on the place of articulation along with the allophonic pattern. Alveolar and uvular /r/ are usually realised as fricatives in coda (although voiced and voiceless taps and trills are also possible) (Van de Velde 1996, Sebregts 2014); retroflex or bunched palatal /r/ are realised as approximants. Alveolar trilled or untrilled fricatives are the most common realisations in Belgian Standard Dutch, while uvular fricatives are also found (Tops 2009, Sebregts 2014); in Northern Standard Dutch, coda /r/ is generally realised as an approximant, with retroflex or bunched palatal /r/ most common, and alveolar and uvular approximants also possible (Collins and Mees 1981; Van de Velde 1996, Van de Velde and Van Hout 2001, Smakman 2006, Sebregts 2014).  

Voicing
Variation in voicing is mostly determined by the prosodic and segmental context /r/ appears in. Consonantal (tapped, trilled, or fricative) /r/ is usually voiceless when word-final, and voiced elsewhere; in addition, uvular trills and fricatives are often voiceless in onsets following voiceless obstruents.

References:
  • Bezooijen, Rene van, Kroezen, S. & Berg, R. van de2002Front approximant /r/: a new and vigorous chang ein DutchLinguistics in the Netherlands 2002AmsterdamJohn Benjamins
  • Collins, B. & Mees,I1981The Phonetics of English and DutchLeiden/Boston/KölnBrill
  • Collins, B. & Mees,I1981The Phonetics of English and DutchLeiden/Boston/KölnBrill
  • Collins, B. & Mees,I1981The Phonetics of English and DutchLeiden/Boston/KölnBrill
  • Collins, B. & Mees,I1981The Phonetics of English and DutchLeiden/Boston/KölnBrill
  • Sebregts, Koen2014The Sociophonetics and Phonology of Dutch rUtrechtLOTThesis
  • Sebregts, Koen2014The Sociophonetics and Phonology of Dutch rUtrechtLOTThesis
  • Sebregts, Koen2014The Sociophonetics and Phonology of Dutch rUtrechtLOTThesis
  • Sebregts, Koen2014The Sociophonetics and Phonology of Dutch rUtrechtLOTThesis
  • Sebregts, Koen2014The Sociophonetics and Phonology of Dutch rUtrechtLOTThesis
  • Sebregts, Koen2014The Sociophonetics and Phonology of Dutch rUtrechtLOTThesis
  • Sebregts, Koen2014The Sociophonetics and Phonology of Dutch rUtrechtLOTThesis
  • Sebregts, Koen2014The Sociophonetics and Phonology of Dutch rUtrechtLOTThesis
  • Sebregts, Koen2014The Sociophonetics and Phonology of Dutch rUtrechtLOTThesis
  • Smakman, Dick2006Standard Dutch in the Netherlands: A Sociolinguistic and Phonetic DescriptionUtrechtLOT
  • Smakman, Dick2006Standard Dutch in the Netherlands: A Sociolinguistic and Phonetic DescriptionUtrechtLOT
  • Tops, Evie2009Variatie en Verandering van de /r/ in VlaanderenBrusselVUBPress
  • Tops, Evie2009Variatie en Verandering van de /r/ in VlaanderenBrusselVUBPress
  • Tops, Evie2009Variatie en Verandering van de /r/ in VlaanderenBrusselVUBPress
  • Van de Velde, Hans1996Variatie en Verandering in het Gesproken Standaard-Nederlands (1935-1993)NijmegenKoninlijke Universiteit NijmegenThesis
  • Velde, Hans van de1996Variatie en Verandering in het Gesproken Standaard-Nederlands (1935-1993)NijmegenKoninklijke Universiteit NijmegenThesis
  • Velde, Hans van de1996Variatie en Verandering in het Gesproken Standaard-Nederlands (1935-1993)NijmegenKoninklijke Universiteit NijmegenThesis
  • Velde, Hans van de1996Variatie en Verandering in het Gesproken Standaard-Nederlands (1935-1993)NijmegenKoninklijke Universiteit NijmegenThesis
  • Velde, Hans van de1996Variatie en Verandering in het Gesproken Standaard-Nederlands (1935-1993)NijmegenKoninklijke Universiteit NijmegenThesis
  • Velde, Hans van de1998Norm en variatieNederlandse Taalkunde3253-261
  • Velde, Hans van de1998Norm en variatieNederlandse Taalkunde3253-261
  • Velde, Hans van de & Hout, Roeland van2001’r-atics: Sociolinguistic, phonetic and phonological characteristics of /r/BrusselsEtudes & Travaux
  • Verhoeven, Jo2005Belgian Standard DutchJournal of the International Phonetic Association35243-247
  • Vieregge, W.H. & Broeders, A.P.A1993Intra- and interspeaker variation of /r/ in DutchEurospeech ’93, 3rd European Conference on Speech Communication and Technology2Berlin267–270
  • Vieregge, W.H. & Broeders, A.P.A1993Intra- and interspeaker variation of /r/ in DutchEurospeech ’93, 3rd European Conference on Speech Communication and Technology2Berlin267–270
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