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On the so-called "trilled R" in Spanish: A look at data with implications for phonology, dialectology, and pedagogy. LIB 100 APPROVED!

Terrell A. Morgan, PhD

Terrell A. Morgan, PhD

Date and Time

Monday, November 13, 2017
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM


  • Holton Hooker Learning and Living Center


The so-called trilled r in Spanish is known to have a myriad of phonetic manifestations, and many of these are not trills at all. This presentation offers a detailed description (as well as recorded samples) of the aspirated, velarized, assibilated, tap, and retroflex approximant r’s found throughout Latin America that appear where we might expect a normative voiced alveolar trill. In some cases, these rhotic sounds have an allophonic distribution different from that of the “textbook –rr-,” and some are implicated in a reconfiguration of the inventory of consonant phonemes of Spanish. 

Videotaped speech samples from across Latin America show that “assibilated” r’s from as far away as Paraguay and Costa Rica, for example, are similar in articulation, while those of Highland Bolivia are quite distinct—in spite of the fact that manuals of phonetics and dialectology regularly lump all of these together as part of the same phenomenon. Although variation within and across speakers is widespread, the use of the “traditional” voiced alveolar trill is rare indeed in many dialects from the United States to Argentina.

This talk also addresses the very real concern of students who lament their inability to “roll their r’s” and fear that native-like pronunciation is forever out of their reach. The presentation concludes with strategies for practicing the alveolar trill as well as physiologically realistic and sociolinguistically unmarked alternatives.


Bret Linford,



November 2017

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