T-to-R in Northern English


For November’s first lecture (on the 2nd), Patrick Honeybone is going to tell us about T-to-R in Northern English.


One widely accepted approach in phonology argues that phonological phenomena fundamentally come in two flavours. The most influential implementation of this idea distinguishes between ‘lexical’ and ‘postlexical’ processes, deriving the difference from the structure of the linguistic grammar. The two types of processes are expected to have different properties: lexical processes cannot occur across word-boundaries because the elements in which they apply (‘words’) have not yet been organised into phrases, and postlexical processes cannot refer to individual words because the units in which they apply (‘phrases’) exist at a point in the grammar at which the identity of individual words is unrecoverable.

The distinction between lexical and postlexical phenomena is called into question by the existence of what Wells (1982) calls ‘T-to-R’. This is a phenomenon (found across the north of England) in which there is phonological variation of the following kind: if a vowel follows the segment in question, the form features a variety’s normal realisation of /r/; elsewhere, the forms feature the variety’s normal realisation for /t/. This means that ‘I got one book’ would have a [t] in ‘got’, because a /w/ follows, while ‘I got a book’ could have a rhotic. The surprising thing about T-to-R is that, while it occurs across word boundaries (as in the last example) and so shows a fundamental characteristic of postlexical phonology, it is also lexically specific, which is a fundamental characteristic of lexical phonology: for example, a rhotic is possible in ‘not again’, but not in ‘knot again’. T-to-R thus seem to mix properties of the two types of phonological processes: it is neither one type or the other, and thus seems to be impossible (if the lexical/postlexical distinction is correct).

In this talk I will show that T-to-R is not impossible, after all. (Which is rather handy as it certainly exists….) The explanation requires us to consider the kinds of phonological changes that have occurred in the relevant dialects, and the status of underlying forms.

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

Everyone is welcome to join us at the pub afterwards!

18:00 doors for an 18:15 start.



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