Background: The English alveolar approximant /ɹ/ is an articulatorily complex sound. It is late in acquisition and can require therapy for a dialectally acceptable pronunciation. Research on /ɹ/ in North American English identifies several articulatory variants, from a raised tongue tip with lowered tongue dorsum, to a lowered tongue tip and a raised tongue dorsum (‘bunched’). Some studies report an articulatory difference between prevocalic /ɹ/ and post-vocalic /ɹ/. Given the high incidence of /ɹ/ misarticulation and the range of attested tongue shapes, it is useful to investigate /ɹ/ production in dialects of English outside North America. Here we present data from southern Irish English, which is rhotic, but lacks any direct articulatory data on /ɹ/ production.
Method: Ultrasound images from two adult female native speakers of southern Irish English were recorded (Mindray DP6600 ultrasound scanner) and analysed with Articulate Assistant Advanced software (Articulate Instruments Ltd.). The stimulus list consisted of /ɹ/ in initial and final position in naturally occurring /ɹVp/ or /pVɹ/ words, where V is /i, e, a, o u/. Participants also produced a sustained /ɹ/ and unstressed ‘schwar’ in ‘zipper’ for a total of 140 tokens per speaker. Splines were fitted on ultrasound images at the temporal midpoint of /ɹ/ production.
Results: Tongue shape analysis of both speakers shows a lowered tongue tip, a raised tongue dorsum and a bulge in the tongue root that suggests a constricted pharynx. There is no clear distinction in tongue shape between rhotics in word-initial or final position.
Conclusions: Tongue shapes from both speakers are similar to the ‘bunched r’ found in varieties of North American English. Further research is needed to assess a more representative sample, but clinicians can use therapy tools based on a ‘bunched’ tongue shape with confidence that this is a naturally occurring variant in Irish English.