From A to Z;Primary

8th May 1998 at 01:00
Sue Palmer's weekly guide to the alphabet.

Rrrrrrrr! According to Ben Jonson, "R is the dog's letter, and hurreth in the sound - the tongue striking the inner palate with a trembling about the teeth."

As well as its initial rumbles in words like roar and rage, and its terrier-like attempts to terrorise you in the middle of words, you can hear the dog's letter growling in a pack of common blends: br, cr, dr, fr, gr, pr, tr, spr, str, shr, thr.

It also occurs in another array of phonics units: the vowel phonemes usually represented by ar, or, erirur, oor, ear, air. English phoneticians consider these single vowel sounds, with no dog's letter to be heard. Scots, however, enjoy a good growl, and north of the border the r of car, horse, fern, shirt, nurse, poor, dear, and chair is clearly audible.

To convey an audible r to all nationalities - ie when a word's pronunciation requires the separating of r from a preceding vowel - it helps to double it, as in car but carry, bore but borrow, Bert but berry, squirt but squirrel, hurt but hurry.

Finally, r is for riddle. Do you remember this one from the playground?

Round and round the rugged rocks The ragged rascal ran. How many r's are there in that? Pray, tell me if you can.

(Answer: none - there are no r's in "that")

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