Mancunians at r-atics

Posted on November 5, 2019 by

There is such a thing as a conference series dedicated to r. That’s not the statistical package R, but r-the-sound. Every once in a while someone suggests that the conference should maybe expand to also include l, but that drastic step has not yet been taken, as the community keeps its focus.

If you’re a linguist, which you probably are, you will not find any of that too strange. Be advised, however, that such fetishisation of r has been known to intrigue, confuse, amuse and even anger the uninitiated. Lots of PR potential in r.

So what’s up in the r-world? We’re about to find out, as the sixth edition of the r-atics conference is happening this week in Paris, featuring two contributions from Mancunian linguists.

Kaiyue Xing will be presenting the results of her PhD project which is on r in Mandarin Chinese. Kaiyue has been collecting audio and ultrasound data from speakers from Beijing for the last two years, and she definitely has news about r. What counts as r in Mandarin, comes under at least four different guises, meaning four different tongue shapes. These translate into different sounding rs, some very different, and some only a little bit different. So what makes them all r? R they all r? It’s controversial, but Kaiyue has some ideas on what binds all the rs together.

Meanwhile, Patrycja Strycharczuk proves that you don’t have to look as far as China for the r magic to unfold itself. Pat took the ultrasound machine to London back in June, and with the help of Susie Lloyd and Jim Scobbie (both Queen Margaret University) collected ultrasound tongue images from 37 Southern British English speakers pronouncing r. It seems that English speakers born in the late 1970s innovated some radically new types of r, with rather more tongue body action than in previous generations. These new r’s have now penetrated the language, and now maybe also millennials have put their own twist on the new r

The r-atics 6 conference will also feature invited talks from two long-standing friends and collaborators of the Manchester Phonetics Lab, and level 3 r-masters, Jim Scobbie and Koen Sebregts (Utrecht University).