There have been a few comments about my post on ‘vanishing r’, including one from Jack Windsor Lewis (his blog 145 on 29 December 2008). He suspects that the lack of complaints from the public about the ‘mispronunciation’ of veterinary/veterinarian was due to its relative rarity as a word. However, what I did not write was that when I received complaints about other r-deletions, e.g. February, library, I usually pointed my correspondent to the acceptability of ‘vetinary’. No one ever came back at me on that, accusing me – as they were quite likely to – either of gross ignorance of my own language or of being a wishy-washy liberal who would accept anything. I took this to mean that ‘vetinary’ was acceptable to them when ‘Febuary’ was not. John Wells has given this pronunciation without comment in every edition of his Pronunciation Dictionary, although neither the Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation nor the English Pronouncing Dictionary mentions it at all. The popular TV series “All Creatures Great and Small” frequently used the word, and although the action was set in Yorkshire, that would not have stopped viewers complaining if they perceived a word being regularly mispronounced.

My point about meteorological was that it was the first ‘liquid’ that is usually lost, and Jack confirms this when he says he never heard /miːtiəˈrɒdʒɪkəl/. The once carefully trained BBC announcers and newsreaders would pay far more attention to pronouncing all the consonants in this word than they would to the quality of the unstressed vowels (partly because of their vulnerability to complaints from the audience), so they were unlikely to delete the /r/. My impression is that nowadays, broadcast speech is much faster, so more deletion can be expected.

Amy Stoller’s understanding of dissimilation is different from mine, and the r-deletion she mentions is the post-vocalic deletion of non-rhotic speakers rather than the one I discussed.

Adrian Morgan’s comment on ‘Febuary’ being a case of “r-replacement” rather than r-deletion is interesting. Two things are going on with this word: the r-deletion common to all the words I mentioned, which easily leads to a pronunciation /ˈfebri/, and then the re-instatement of the syllable between /b/ and /r/ by analogy with the preceding month name, January.  Children learning the names of the months, in their chronological order, chant “January, February, March, April, …” in rhythmical feet, as /ˈdʒænjuːˌeəri, ˈfebjuːˌeəri, ˈmɑːtʃ, ˈeɪˌprəl, …/


  1. “Amy Stoller’s understanding of dissimilation is different from mine, and the r-deletion she mentions is the post-vocalic deletion of non-rhotic speakers rather than the one I discussed.”

    I think you misunderstood me; I was indeed discussing the “disappearing R” of library, February, particularly, veterinary, etc. Where there are two Rs in the word, many native speakers of English, regardless of rhoticity, have a tendency to drop the first.

    Incidentally, my speech is rhotic, and this phenomenon, as I’m sure you are aware, is just as common in American rhotic speech as it is in English non-rhotic speech. For that matter, it is also observable in American non-rhotic speech (which gets rarer by the day); I don’t know enough about English rhotic speech (in the southwest, pockets of the north) to comment.

    For what it’s worth, as a child in New York City, I learned “January, February, March, April, …” as [ˈdʒænjʊˌɛri, ˈfebjʊˌɛri, mɑɚtʃ, ˈeɪprəl] and so forth. In fact, I remember being taught that the first R in “February” was a silent letter! (As a tiny child, I swallowed this whole.)

    I haven’t heard R deleted before an L in the same word, but perhaps I haven’t been paying attention. I’ll probably start noticing it everywhere now …

  2. I can confirm that rhotic speech in England is swiftly being replaced by the average non-rhotic variety, even in the urban centres of Scotland and Ireland non-rhoticity seems to be growing.

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