----- Original Message -----
From: "John Cowan" <[log in to unmask]>

> Sally Caves scripsit:
>> I just can't duplicate what John is describing and still pronounce "car"
>> the way I do it.  So there's no curling up of your tongue tip towards
>> the roof of your mouth?  It stays behind your lower teeth?  Is there any
>> curling at all, John?  When I try to duplicate that, without the curl,
>> I get not only a sound that changes the quality of my "a," but an "r"
>> that sounds like "caw" with "r-coloring,"  If I curl it, with the tongue
>> still behind the lower teeth, I get a deeper sounding r, but in order
>> to make it sound right, it still points up at the roof of my mouth.
> On further investigation, my /r/ (both initial and coda) is a velar
> approximant, with the tongue-behind-lower-teeth a secondary gesture.
> Or perhaps it is not a gesture at all, but just the physical consequence
> of keeping the front of my tongue slack.

Hmmm. I see.  The "r" sound is made by raising the back of your tongue to
produce sonority in the velar region.  I can do it, now.  It sounds a lot
like my "r," but it feels utterly foreign in my mouth.  And I can only do it
with the coda.  Does Charlie do it this way?    I'd actually need to see and
hear you do it.

>> You and I have met at Tim's house (that was a wonderful party!).
>> I don't think I noticed that your "r" was different from mine.
>> Maybe these distinctions are so subtle that it's hard for others to
>> hear it when they aren't listening for it.
> Mindful of this, I taught myself to say "car" and "rack" with my own /r/,
> with an alveolar approximant, and with a retroflex approximant.  I tested
> these as minimal pairs and as the full triplet on two native speakers of
> American English, one rhotic and one partly non-rhotic (typical speakers
> of NYC English have both rhotic and non-rhotic varieties at command,
> and use more rhotics as the register rises).  Nobody could hear any of
> the differences.

Okay, that explains a lot.   When did you teach this method to yourself?  At
a young age?  Were you aware of what you were doing?  (this sounds as though
it was a self-conscious experiment.)  Did you start out with an ordinary
retroflex r and change it?

> So I suspect that children learn their American /r/s whichever way,
> and suppose that everyone else pronounces it just the way they do,
> but if all our mouths had fingers in them, we'd find a wide variety of
> different styles of pronunciation.

I think you are utterly right. And not just with "r."  With "s," as you note
below.  And Sean Connery has the most distinctive [S] sound, pulled back as
to be almost retroflex or palatal.

>> I guess I'm frustrated that I don't completely grasp where these areas
>> in my mouth are: "post alveolar, alveolar palatal, and retroflex region.
>> I have been entrenched in thinking that retroflex means the curling
>> of the tongue UP.
> The trouble is that the classical POA terms are capturing two separate
> facts simultaneously: where the tongue is touching or almost touching,
> and what part of the tongue is doing the work.


> So retroflex s and
> alveolopalatal s are both being fricated against the same part of the
> palate (just behind the alveolar ridge), but the first is with the tongue
> tip, whereas the second is with the blade so placed that the tongue tip
> winds up behind the lower teeth.

These sound different to me.  They have pitches, when I make them, and the
retroflex s gives almost a whole lower note, like a chickadee calling. The
seems to pull the tongue back on the alveola.

>> What we need in CXS is a better representation of the variations in the
>> American "r."  Judging from what I've heard, these sounds have been
>> neglected.
> They are neglected precisely because they make little or no difference
> to anyone (except us phonetician-geeks).  For all we know, there are
> pairs of identical twins out there that have learned and use different
> pronunciations of their /r/s.


> John Cowan                                <[log in to unmask]>
> Yakka foob mog.  Grug pubbawup zink wattoom gazork.  Chumble spuzz.
>    -- Calvin, giving Newton's First Law "in his own words"

Great quote.