Following from Ed’s comment about the occurrence of rhoticity in English dialects as reported by Ellis, Joseph Wright, and the Survey of English Dialects, it seems to me that Ellis was having great trouble identifying exactly what sounds he (and his principal co-workers, Thomas Hallam and Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte) was hearing when the orthography contained ‘r’. I think we can assume that the incidence of rhoticity was falling, and perhaps quite rapidly, throughout the country during the nineteenth century, which wouldn’t have helped. Also the sound itself was ceasing to be a ‘proper’ trill or tap, and becoming more like the present-day approximant.

He recognised what we call “intrusive r” in many parts of the country, and if we had continued to use the phrase he had for it – “euphonic r”, perhaps we might have spared ourselves as linguists a lot of grief from the general public who have picked up on “intrusive r” and beaten us on the head with it for allowing what they hear as a blatant solecism to be perpetuated.

I’d also like to acknowledge here Jack Windsor Lewis’ comment about Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Grammar, and John Wells’ Accents of English. I agree that Ellis’s presentation could have been better, but as the pioneering effort it was, I think he did a great job in covering an immense amount of ground.


  1. You might be interested in this article by Graham Shorrocks on AJ Ellis. I cannot access it, but I understand that it defends Ellis’s work against some of the criticism that it has received.

  2. Ed – Keep this information coming!

  3. Warren Maguire has written an article that is favourable towards Ellis. It’s interesting that he argues that most of Joseph Wright’s data on the North East of England was derived from AJ Ellis.

  4. A. J. Ellis referred to it in Volume V of his On Early English Pronunciation at p. 229 [1661] in commenting on how Thackeray had indicated the speech of a fictional footman’s diary in a comic piece in Punch in 1845 or so with euphonic r’s in pawing, drawing and saw ’em etc.

  5. A quotation from my article on Linking r in the General British pronunciation of English

    Adapted and updated from the Journal of the International Phonetic Association 1975 Vol. 5 no.1 pp 37- 42.

    This may be freely consulted at my Home Page http://www.yek.me.uk

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