Sat 2 Aug 2008
Something was said tonight that piqued my linguistic interest and, as I’ve been pretty light on linguistic content of late, I thought I’d share it.
We (my housemate, a few friends and I) were at the pub tonight, when we met an Irishman, from Clare county. My housemate is named after a capital city of a country just north of Australia, which is a non-typical Anglo-Australian name. When he introduced himself to said Irishman, he said his name was [‘mo:sbi]. Upon hearing this, the Irishman repeated it back, to make sure he understood correctly, and said [‘moɹsbi], with a clear rhotic segment. I am sure he didn’t know the name beforehand, just to mitigate against any possible priming effects.
What interested me was the fact that the Irishman, who speaks with a rhotic accent (that is, with post-vocalic ‘r’) managed to extrapolate the correct phonemic form of my housemate’s name, including the ‘r’, even though the way it was presented to him was entirely r-less.
Is it the case then, that some long vowels in r-less Englishes are assumed by r-full speakers as being a short vowel followed by an /r/?
This is an area of linguistics that I know very little about; how speakers of different dialects and accents of English manage to overcome the accentual differences between the ways in which they speak and deduce the right form. The same goes for the North-American pronunciation of my nickname; I pronounce it [hɔs], yet North-Americans have no trouble at all converting that directly to [ha:s].
On the other had, it may be a neutralisation effect; if I were to hear the name [ha:s] in a typical rhotic North-American accent, I may permissibly take it to translate into my accent as either Hoss, my nickname, or Haas, as in Mary Haas, for instance.
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