Category Archives: Linking r

Phonology – PDE Aspects of connected speech


Video – Connected or Linked Speech

Linking exercise

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Listen and underline the word if you think that there is a linking r or and intrusive r in the following sentences. When you come across a linking-r or intrusive-r, write the /r/ sound at the appropriate position in the transcription given.


Look at the one on the corner of the street.

/ lʊk ət ðə wʌn ɒn ðə ˈkɔːnər əv ðə striːt /

Check answers and download Linking exercise

Spelling of the English phonemes /r/ consonant

This is never heard in GB before a pause or as the invariable possibility where it precedes another consonant sound. In GA any written r may be uttered tho many more are elided than is no doubt the general impression eg in a word like surprise which often loses its first /r/.

In GA in one unique word / r / is heard where no r appears in the spelling:

Any word ending with the spelling -r or -re when followed in close rhythmical connection with a vowel sound usually has such an r pronounced. Such an / r / is known as a linking / r /.

It is also normal in GB to insert a linking / r / between any word-final schwa and a rhythmically closely following vowel sound as in:

Linking / r / is also used probably by most GB speakers when / ɜː/ ends a word in such situations and also similarly with / ɑː/ or / ɔː/ even when no <r> is involved in their spelling. At one time purists criticised such usages as not being “justified” by the spelling but they are now so commonplace that they almost invariably pass unnoticed.


Liaison – Linking /r/

Liaison means the linking of sounds or words.When we say a sentence in English, we join or “link” words to each other. Because of this linking, the words in a sentence do not always sound the same as when we say them individually. Linking is very important in English. If we recognize and use linking, two things will happen:

1. We will understand other people more easily.
2. Other people will understand us more easily.

The important thing in linking is the sound, not the letter. Often the letter and the sound are the same, but not always.

Linking /r/

The most common liaison phenomena involve /r/ appearing in non-rhotic speech in post-vocalic contexts. A rhotic speaker will pronounce words like far as /fɑːr/, whereas a non-rhotic speaker does not pronounce /r/ at all unless followed by a vowel. E.g.

For rhotic speakers this is just because far has an /r/ in it, but for non-rhotic speakers it appears because the first word ends with a vowel and the second word begins with a vowel – the /r/ links the two words together. In such cases, [r] forms a syllable with the following vowel in connected speech and therefore occurs in a syllable onset – such syllabification across word boundaries is a general feature of connected speech in English. The [r] occurring in this context is usually referred to as Linking R, for the simple fact that there is <r> in the spelling.

For speakers of non-rhotic accents /r/ is not pronounced after vowels. However, in these accents, when words that are spelled ending with an <r> or an <re> come before a word beginning with a vowel, the /r/ is usually pronounced. This is linking /r/. In rhotic accents the /r/ is also pronounced when the words are in isolation so cannot be termed linking.

Intrusive /r/

Intrusive /r/ also involves the pronunciation of an /r/ sound, but this time there is no justification from the spelling as the word’s spelling does not end in <r> or <re>. Again this relates to non-rhotic accents; rhotic accents do not have intrusive r. Like Linking /r/ Intrusive /r/ is found in word-final position in phrases such as law /r/ and order [lɔːr ənd ɔːdə], the idea /r/ of it, spa /r/ is  in which [r] is inserted after the set of non-high vowels [ə, ɑː, ɔː].

Thus, link a final /ə/ or even /ɑː, ɔː/ to an initial vowel in the same sense group by inserting an r-sound even if there is no r in the spelling. The /r/ added in this way is known as Intrusive /r/.



For further information click here English Phonetic Course Liaison

Aspects of connected speech: Linking

English Phonetics and Phonology

A practical course

Second edition

Peter Roach (Professor of Phonetics, University of Reading)

14. – Aspects of connected speech


In our hypothetical “mechanical speech” all words would be separate units placed next to each other in sequence; in real connected speech, however, we sometimes link words together. The most familiar case is the use of linking r; the phoneme r cannot occur in syllable-final position in RP, but when a word’s spelling suggests a final r, and a word beginning with a vowel follows, the usual pronunciation for RP speakers is to pronounce with r. For example:

Many RP speakers use r in a similar way to link words ending with a vowel even when there is no “justification” from the spelling, as in:

  This has been called intrusive r; some English speakers and teachers still regard this as incorrect or sub-standard pronunciation, but it is undoubtedly widespread.

“Linking” and “intrusive r” are special cases of juncture; this name refers to the relationship between one sound and the sounds that immediately precede and follow it, and has been given some importance in phonological theory. If we take the two words ‘my turn’ maɪ tɜːn, the relationship between m and , between t and ɜː and between ɜː and n is said to be one of close juncture. m is preceded by silence and n is followed by silence, and so m and n are said to be in a position of external open juncture. The problem lies in deciding what the relationship is between and t; since we do not usually pause between words, there is no silence (or external open juncture) to indicate word division and to justify the space left in the transcription. But if English speakers hear maɪ tɜːn they can usually recognise this as ‘my turn’ and not ‘might earn’. This is where the problem of internal open juncture (usually just called “juncture” for short) becomes apparent. What is it that makes perceptible the difference between maɪ tɜːn and maɪt ɜːn? The answer is that in the one case the t is aspirated (initial in ‘turn’), and in the other case it is not (being final in ‘might’). In addition to this, the diphthong is shorter in ‘might’, but we will ignore this for the sake of a simpler argument. If a difference in meaning is caused by the difference between aspirated and unaspirated t, how can we avoid the conclusion that English has a phonemic contrast between aspirated and unaspirated t? The answer is, of course, that the position of a word boundary has some effect on the realisation of the t phoneme; this is one of the many cases in which the occurrence of different allophones can only be properly explained by making reference to units of grammar (something which was for a long time disapproved of by many phonologists).

Many ingenious minimal pairs have been invented to show the significance of juncture, a few of which are given below:

a)       ‘might rain’ maɪt reɪn (r voiced when initial in ‘rain’ short)

b)       ‘my train’ maɪ treɪn (r voiceless following t in ‘train’)

a)      ‘all that I’m after today’ ɔːl ðət aɪm ɑːftə tədeɪ (t unaspirated when final in ‘that’)

b)      ‘all the time after today’ ɔːl ðə taɪm ɑːftə tədeɪ (t aspirated when initial in ‘time’)

a)      ‘he lies’ hiː laɪz (“clear l” initial in ‘lies’)

b)      ‘heal eyes’ hiːl aɪz (“dark l” final in ‘heal’)

a)      ‘keep sticking’ kiːp stɪkɪŋ (t unaspirated after s; iː short)

b)      ‘keeps ticking’ kiːps tɪkɪŋ (t aspirated in ‘ticking’)

Of course, the context in which the words occur almost always makes it clear where the boundary comes, and the juncture information is then redundant.

It should by now be clear that there is a great deal of difference between the way words are pronounced in isolation and in the context of connected speech. It would not be practical or useful to teach all learners of English to produce assimilations; practice in making elisions is more useful, and it is clearly valuable to do exercises related to rhythm and linking. Perhaps the most important consequence of what has been described in this chapter is that learners of English must be made very clearly aware of the problems that they will meet in listening to colloquial, connected speech.

Notes on problems and further reading

14.4 An essential part of acquiring fluency in English is learning to produce connected speech without gaps between words, and this is the practical importance of linking. For practical work, see Mortimer (1984). From the theoretical point of view, however, I personally do not find the question of ‘intrusive’ and ‘linking’ r in RP very interesting (one might perhaps class it as a matter similar to the grammatical and stylistic question of whether or not to use ‘whom’) but anyone who wishes to go into the subject could read Windsor Lewis (1975a), Pring (1976), Windsor Lewis (1977a) and Fox (1978).

And obvious question to be asked in relation to juncture is whether ‘internal open juncture’ can actually be heard. Jones (1931) implies that it can, but experimental work (e.g. O’Connor and Tooley (1964)) suggests that in many cases it is not perceptible unless a speaker is deliberately trying to avoid ambiguity. It is interesting to note that some phonologists of the 1950s and 1960s felt it necessary to invent a ‘phoneme’ of juncture in order to be able to transcribe minimal pairs like ‘grey ape’ / ‘great ape’ unambiguously without having to refer to grammatical boundaries; see for example Trager and Smith (1951).

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