Non Rhotic

You will probably be familiar with non-rhotic accents, even if you don't know what the word non-rhotic means! Non-rhoticity is a linguistic feature that has been the subject of much debate and study among linguists. Found in English speakers from the West Indies, South Africa, and England non-rhoticity is a fascinating subject to explore even if you are simply curious about the diversity of the English language.

Non Rhotic Non Rhotic

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Table of contents

    Non-rhotic: meaning

    Non-rhotic refers to when the /r/ consonant sound is not pronounced if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it is at the end of a word. Non-rhotic is also known as r-dropping.

    Non-rhotic accent

    A non-rhotic accent drops the /r/ sound if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it is at the end of a word. For example, if the words 'start', 'park' and 'butter', are spoken with a non-rhotic accent, the /r/ sounds will not be pronounced. Instead, they are pronounced like this:

    • start = /stɑːt/ - the /r/ is not pronounced as it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant.
    • park = /pɑːk/ - like the previous word, the /r/ comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, so it is dropped.
    • butter = /ˈbʌtə/ - here, the /r/ is dropped as it comes at the end of the word.

    Non-rhotic English

    Although there are some exceptions (such as most West Country accents and Scottish accents), most British English accents are considered non-rhotic. One of the most well-known non-rhotic accents is the standard British English accent, also known as Received Pronunciation. This is the accent that is used most by those in London and South East England.

    Like British English, Australian, New Zealand English, and South African English are also mostly non-rhotic.

    On the other hand, Canadian English accents are almost entirely rhotic, meaning the /r/ sound is always pronounced. Further, most American English accents are rhotic. There are some exceptions though, such as:

    • The traditional New York City dialect (currently less so)

    • The traditional Rhode Island dialect (currently less so)
    • The African American Vernacular English (AAVE) dialect
    • Parts of Alabama
    • Savannah, Georgia
    • Norfolk, Virginia
    • The Yat accent (New Orleans)
    • Areas of New England, particularly Boston and Maine

    Non-rhotic accent: examples

    Below are some examples of words pronounced using a non-rhotic accent. These words will be phonetically transcribed using the standard British English pronunciation, as it is a non-rhotic accent:

    WordNon-rhotic pronunciation (standard British English)
    Marker/mɑːkə/
    Card/kɑːd/
    Heart/hɑːt/
    Fear/fɪə/
    Learn/lɜːn/
    Father/fɑːðə/

    One sound that is commonly used in non-rhotic accents is the schwa (/ə/) vowel sound. For example, the 'o' in the word 'corrupt', or the 'e' in 'soldier.' This is used instead of an /r/ sound, although the word will still be spelt with an 'r' at the end.

    Rhotic vs non-rhotic

    The opposite of a non-rhotic accent is a rhotic accent. This refers to when the /r/ sound is always pronounced, no matter where it is in a word. An example of a rhotic accent is the standard American English accent.

    Non Rhotic Image of US and UK flag StudySmarter

    Fig. 1 - Standard American English is rhotic, whereas standard British English is non-rhotic.

    Let's compare this to standard British English pronunciation:

    WordRhotic American English Non-rhotic British English
    Marker/mɑrkər//mɑːkə/
    Card /kɑrd//kɑːd/
    Heart/hɑrt//hɑːt/
    Fear/fɪr//fɪə/
    Learn /lɜrn//lɜːn/
    Father/ˈfɑðər/ˈ/fɑːðə/

    Notice how the /r/ sound is present in the rhotic pronunciations but not in the non-rhotic pronunciations.

    Non-Rhotic - Key takeaways

    • A non-rhotic accent drops the /r/ sound if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it is at the end of a word.
    • The opposite of a non-rhotic accent is a rhotic accent. the /r/ sound is always pronounced, no matter where it is in a word.
    • The majority of British English accents are considered to be non-rhotic (although there are some exceptions).
    • The majority of Australian and New Zealand English accents are non-rhotic.
    • Most American English accents are rhotic, but a few are non-rhotic.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Non Rhotic

    What is a non-rhotic accent?

    A non-rhotic accent refers to when the /r/ consonant sound is not pronounced if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it comes at the end of a word.

    What is the difference between rhotic and non-rhotic? 

    With a rhotic accent, the /r/ sound is always pronounced. With a non-rhotic accent, the /r/ sound is not pronounced if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it comes at the end of a word.

    What is rhoticity in English?

    Rhoticity in English refers to the use of the rhotic /r/ consonant sound in words. Non-rhoticity is the dropping of the /r/ sound.

    What is a non-rhotic accent?

    A non-rhotic accent is an accent that drops the /r/ sound if it comes after a vowel and is followed by a consonant, or if it is at the end of a word. An example of a non-rhotic accent is the standard British English accent.

    Is British non-rhotic?

    Most British English accents are indeed non-rhotic (although there are some exceptions). 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false?The Australian English accent is mostly non-rhotic.

    True or false?The New Zealand English accent is mostly non-rhotic.

    True or false?The standard British English accent is rhotic.

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