The /r/ sound is spelled with <r> or <rr>. Initially we also find <wr> in words like write and wriggle. The /w/ sound is normally spelled <w> or <wh>, and occurs in <qu> spellings contrasting with <cr> such as crack/quack. An initial /w/ occurs in the words one and once Neither sound occurs finally in RP, though we do encounter the phenomenon of intrusive /r/ in phrases like "the idea-r-of it" or "Africa-r-and Asia". Notice the homographs read and reading/Reading make pairs with weed/weeding and wed/wedding, and row with woe and wow.
The /r/ sound is normally described as a voiced frictionless continuant or liquid. It has many allophones in RP, including a voiced continuant with grooved or retroflex tongue position before vowels, a single tap resembling /d/ intervocallically, and a voiceless fricative after /t/. It is a difficult sound for children, who often substitute a /w/ for /r/, and sometimes this persists into adulthood. A well known case is the broadcaster Jonathan Ross, who is sometimes known as "Wossie" because of his problems articulating /r/, and another was the politician Roy Jenkins. Authors sometimes use <w> for <r> to show children's speech. The best known example is the lisping six-year-old Violet Elizabeth Bott who at one point tells William Brown to address her as "Pwincess" in one of Richmal Crompton's Just William books. The /w/ sound is a bilabial semivowel, usually with prominent lip-rounding. It is generally voiced, though a voiceless variant may occur in emphatic speech in words beginning <wh>. The contrast is a frequent source of confusion, not only for EFL learners.
Interesting pairs include:
Taboo word pairs include: rank/wank.
The mean density value is 2.2%. The list makes 150 semantic distinctions, a loading of 52%.
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John Higgins, Shaftesbury, May 2010.