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(r) in British pronunciation

edited September 2018 in Spelling and pronunciation

The "Key to pronunciations (British and World English dictionary)" says this:
(r) indicates an r that is sometimes sounded when a vowel follows, as in drawer, cha-chaing.

However in the Dictionary I can't find any word with an '(r)' indicated in the pronunciation. I expect words like "more", "paper" and "fire" to have it, but they don't. Why? The Dictionary entry for the word "drawer", which was given as an example, doesn't even include a Pronunciation section. And what does "cha-chaing" has to do with 'r'?



  • The person who wrote this was thinking about what it sometimes called an intrusive R.

    Many British English speakers pronounce drawing to rhyme with boring. This is not regarded as acceptable in the prestige standard accent known as RP (Received Pronunciation). Strangely, quite a few RP speakers say this is wrong — without noticing that they do it themselves.

    Now the person who wrote that comment seems to believe that an intrusive R is acceptable in RP to make a distinction between

    drawer = 'part of a piece of furniture'


    drawer = 'person who draws'

    In other words, it is (he or she says) acceptable in RP to pronounce (human) drawer to rhyme with scorer.

    It's perfectly true that many British speakers pronounce intrusive R. I do so myself. But it's controversial to claim that intrusive R is acceptable in RP in certain words.

    The other word is a strange choice — for two reasons:
    1. Cha-cha is the name of a dance that has not been popular for many decades
    2. When it was popular, the normal expression was not cha-chaing but doing the cha-cha.

    It seems to me that the Key to pronunciations (British and World English dictionary) has been copied from the introduction to a pronunciation dictionary. I don't have a copy of the OUP pronunciation dictionary, but I do have a copy of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. This does agree with the OUP author. Here are the given RP pronunciations:

    cha-cha-ing ˈʧɑːʧɑːʳɪŋ
    drawer 'sliding container' drɔː
    drawer 'one_ that draws_' ˈdrɔːʳə

    In this notation raised ʳ signals that the sound r may be inserted.

    Both (r) and ʳ are devices used to add information to phonetic transcription — not to ordinary spelling.

    The paragraph before relates to another sound that may be inserted. Again, OUP uses brackets (ə) while the Longman Dictionary uses a raised symbol . We had a discussion on this earlier:ə-before-l-m-or-n#latest

  • Thanks for the insight, David.

    When I read that (r) comment, I thought it was refering to Linking-R (the 'r' at the end of a word). I've always thought Intrusive-R was an "unofficial" feature of English, so I'm quite surprised Oxford and Longman dictionaries indicate Intrusive-R but not Linking-R.

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