"The _hopper_"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Jun 25 14:37:56 UTC 2012

On Mon, Jun 25, 2012 at 10:21 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
> On 6/25/2012 9:11 AM, Gordon, Matthew J. wrote:
> >
> > Also in Boston, as in most r-less regions, you can hear "intrusive r" as
> > in "the idear of it" or "lawr and order". This is simply the introduction of
> > a non-etymological /r/ at the end of a word when the next word begins with a
> > vowel. This pattern is motivated by the same rule governing when the final
> > /r/ in words that have them historically is pronounced. Thus the /r/ in
> > 'car' is dropped in, e.g., "car by the house," but pronounced in "car in the
> > garage"; ditto for 'idea' except that this word didn't historically have an
> > /r/.
> This is as good an explanation as I've seen for this, but it does not
> account for a small subset of intrusive r. The Boston-area locals whom
> I've heard adding r's to words like "idea" and "law" don't just do it in
> front of vowels, but pretty much anywhere. So I've heard a very
> distinctive, "It's a great idear!" from a person who normally muffles
> the r in "Oh, dear!". To the best of my knowledge, these were socially
> cued, rather than purely phonological--i.e., you'd hear it from this
> person at an academic discussion at Harvard, but not at a beach party on
> the Cape.

In some cases, the addition of /r/ may be occurring strictly at a
lexical level -- that would be the likely explanation for speakers who
say "idear" without inserting /r/ after other words ending in non-high
vowels. But if the /r/ is encroaching across the board beyond the
usual intrusive /r/ contexts, then this may be a case of what Ben
Sadock has called "intrusive intrusive /r/". As I've discussed on
Language Log, such hyper-rhoticity most often is heard from
non-rhotics trying to imitate rhotic accents (as in British imitations
of American English), but it can occasionally pop up when speakers of
a non-rhotic background are shifting to a rhotic prestige model:


In the first post, I give the example of a Brooklyn speaker who is
remarkably hyper-rhotic. There could be similar speakers in the Boston


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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