[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Winter 1979, pp6-18]
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[Emmett Betts: see Anthology, Bulletins.]

Graphic R, by Emmett Albert Betts, Ph.D., LL.D.*

*Winter Haven, FL, U.S.A.
Presented at Nene College, Northampton, England July 27-30, 1979, International Conference of the Simplified Spelling Soc.

Table of Contents.

Graphic R: Phonemic Situation.
The Phoneme Concept.
The /r/ Phoneme.
Pronunciation Symbols.
Dictionaries: Phonemic Respellings.
Speech Development: The r Situation.
Pronounceable Graphic Units.
Spelling Reform: Basic Research.
High Frequency Words.
The r Situation: Phonics.
Spelling: Hard Spots.
Consonant r /r/.
Consonant Clusters.
Vowel Phoneme /ər/, Stressed and Unstressed.
Vowel Phoneme /ər/, Unstressed.
Phoneme /ər/: Linguistics.

Unstressed /ər/: Phonograms and Respellings.

Reform Spellings: Unstressed /ər/.

Vowel Phoneme /ər/, Stressed.
Phonology: Stressed /ər/.

Dictionary Respellings of /ər/, Stressed.

T.O. Spellings of /ər/, Stressed.

Reform Spellings (Initial Teaching Medium) of Stressed /ər/

Phonics: /ər/, Stressed and Unstressed.
Centering Diphthong /ar/.

T.O. and Dictionary Respellings of /ar/.

Reform Spellings.

Phonic Rules.

In Conclusion.

Graphic R: Phonemic Situation.

In this report, consonant r and vowel /ər/, stressed and unstressed, are emphasized. Furthermore, diphthong /är/ is considered in some detail. The following r situations - as applied to General American speech - are delineated to reveal some grapho-phonemic dimensions:

1. Consonant r, as in red, bread, street.
2. Vowel /ər/, stressed, syllabic (fern, hurt, shirt) and unstressed, syllabic as in mother, harbor, dollar.
3. Centering Diphthongs.
/är/ as in star
/ar/ as in carry
/iər/ as in here
/aər/ as in pair
/ōr/ as in door
/or/ as in for
/ur/ as in poor
/ir/ as in spirit
/īr/ as in fire (tripthong)
/aur/ as in our (tripthong)
/eər/ as in care
/yur/ as in cure (tripthong)

The letter r functions as a consonant:
1. First part of a syllable; e.g., ride
2. Part of an initial consonant cluster (blend)
a. Second component; e.g., br in bring

b. Third component; e.g., str in street

The sound /ər/ as in bird (stressed) and motor (unstressed) functions as an elementary vowel sound - i.e., as a segmental phoneme (r-colored vowels).

The final r functions as part of a centering diphthong; e.g., star, fire, and so on.
"The Central-Western type of American speech distinguishes nine vowel phonemes. One of these, [r], is peculiar in its inverted tongue position ... These phonemes are subject to a good deal of non-distinctive variation, some of which depends upon the surrounding phonemes ... " (Bloomfield, p.103)

In Godfrey Dewey's 1970 study (Relative Frequency of English Spellings) based on 100,000 running words of connected matter, the letter r ranked eighth in frequency of occurence. He reported this letter made up 5.94% of English letters. (p. 27) A further analysis of his data on page 124 (again reported in terms of frequency of occurence by Dewey) revealed that r initiated syllables (i.e., represented consonantal /r/) only 19% of the time. All other occurences of r were in medial position (46%) and in final position (35%) of syllables, representing vowel-plus-/r/ situations. (Note: In final position, r may signal unstressed phoneme /ər/, as in father, or a diphthong, as in far. Hence, Dewey's 35% for final r needs re-interpretation.)

The Phoneme Concept.

This report deals with the letter (graphic) r, its uses to symbolize consonant and vowel phonemes. In the history of English, r has followed a long and somewhat tortuous route. As a result, attempts to regularize English spellings have been often frustrated by complex and complicated situations in both speech and writing.

At this date, the study of speech sounds continues. First, is the somewhat ambiguous vowel-consonant dichotomy in the continuum of phonemes, which needs to be resolved. This phonetic dichotomy becomes increasingly complex in terms of articulatory (sound producing movements) and acoustic (what is heard) definitions of phonemes. These dichotomies introduce difficulties in attempts to segment the stream of speech into categories of sounds.

Second, the delineation of the concept of the phoneme and its allophones versus the concept of phonetic features (the minutae) requires continued study by the phoneticians and phonemicists. As Leonard Bloomfield commented in 1933:
"speech utterances ... are infinitely varied." (p. 76)

Bloomfield continued:
"Even a short speech is continuous. It consists of an unbroken succession of movements and sound waves. No matter how many successive parts we break up and record for purposes of minute study, an even finer analysis is always conceivable. . . " (p. 76)

The situation regarding the phoneme concept was stated succinctly by Sapir, as quoted by Hall:
" ... No language forms a watertight system, and we would be surprised if too pretty a picture results from the phoneme analysis of a phonemically asymmetrical situation." (Hall, Introductory Linguistics, p. 97)

On the other hand, the introduction of this basic phonemic concept has influenced positively present-day lexicographers. A casual inspection of the pronunciation symbols employed in dictionaries thirty years ago reveals a complex of symbols as contrasted to present-day phonemically based dictionaries. This trend facilitates lay use of dictionaries and enhances realism in phonics for basic reading purposes.

Of recent date, there has been renewed interest in the study of the writing system (orthography). On many counts, the writing system can be contrasted with language (speech). In addition to segmental phonemes - e.g., /ər/ in father /'fa-thər/ - there are suprasegmental, or secondary, phonemes (pitch, stress, juncture). These suprasegmental phonemes are represented in writing by punctuation and other devices. But the rhythm of language (intonation) is poorly represented by orthography. Bloomfield stated the situation this way:
" ... but our conventions of writing are a poor guide ... "to the phonemic basis of alphabetic writing. (p. 79)

The /r/ Phoneme.

The variability of the /r/ phoneme is emphasized by Kantner and West:
"r is a sound that, even more than t, k, and l, is influenced by neighboring sounds. We will not be far wrong if we think of r as being dragged all over the mouth cavity by the various sounds with which it happens to be associated. This means that different sounds that we recognize as r are sometimes produced by fundamentally different movements. It is doubtful if we should speak of an r phoneme in the usual sense of the word. These various r sounds are only loosely bound together into one large phoneme. For some of the sounds the movements are of the same type; for others there may be a similar underlying acoustic factor in each case. Some of the r sounds, however, are so divergent that probably only their spelling causes them to be considered as r's." (Kantner & West, p. 169)

In The Pronunciation of American English, Arthur J. Bronstein also comments on the variability of /r/:
"The /r/ is probably the most variable of all consonants in our language." (p. 117)

Pyles and Algeo regard allophones of /r/ as evidence of variability:
"Phonemicists, who are primarily interested in distinctive sounds, regard these [e.g., rot, tree, and three] along with other varieties of the r sound as allophones of a single [r] phoneme." (Pyles & Algeo, English - An Introduction to Language, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970, p. 54)

Manser comments on r /r/ as in red:
"Point the tip of the tongue toward your gum ridge and curl it very slightly back toward your soft palate. If your tongue is held in this position, the resulting sound will be voiced, semi-vowel r [r]. This sound becomes partially unvoiced when it follows a voiceless consonant in the same syllable ... " as in pray and try. (p. 34)

With some reservations, West, Kennedy, and Carr recommend symbol [r] to designate this phoneme:
"The symbol [r] is used to include all the many members of the [r] phoneme; they differ significantly and yet resemble one another in quality very closely." (West, Kennedy, & Carr, The Rehabilitation of Speech, Harper & Bros., 1937, p. 220)

"The allophones of /r/ vary considerably from one dialect to another and from one speaker to another. The form most common in American English is retroflex, when the tip of the tongue is turned upward toward the roof of the mouth, and constricted, where the tip of the tongue is drawn back and somewhat humped in the middle. There may also be an accompanying rounding of the lips." (Francis, p. 179)

"The [r] sound is seldom considered as a glide. Yet it seems evident that the r occuring before and after vowels is definitely a glide sound." (Kantner & West, p. 119)

"The vowelized r [ʒ] is closely related to the sound of the [r] phoneme." (Judson & Weaver, p. 121)

On page 154, Kantner & West state
". . . the movement from [ʒ] to some other vowel produces the approach glide [r]. For example, rest [rɛst]?'

On page 161, Kantner and West list as a vowel glide [r] raw [rɔ].
"The consonant [r] is a vowel, retroflex alveolar continuant." (Wise, p. 132)

Kantner and West list the following examples as [r] glides:
1. rare
2. rear
3. rue
4. roar
5. yearly
6. chord
7. rural
8. rhubarb
9. railroad
10. very
(rer', rār')
(rū' )

Note 1: The respellings of rare and rear appear to present special problems.
Note 2: Kantner and West list er /er/ of very as a vowel glide; Thomas lists r as a non-syllabic consonant.

This dependence of consonants on vowels in the syllable was stated succinctly by Martinet, a philologist:
"The name consonant is given to those sounds which are difficult to observe without the support of a preceding or following vowel." (p. 49)275;)

Martinet adds:
"Vowels being more perceptible than consonants, each vowel of an utterance will normally correspond to a peak in the curve of perceptibility or audibility, and as a general rule we perceive as many syllables as there are vowels ..." (p. 51-52)


Because of time and space limitations, this report focuses on a few facets of the graphic r. Hence, these boundaries were established:

1. Phonemics rather than phonetics is the basis for segmenting the speech stream.
2. For the most part, pronunciations are limited to General American Speech. Hence, British and other American dialects are not considered.
3. Primary use is made of pronunciation symbols and respellings recorded in elementary school dictionaries.
4. Although English is a stress using language, the emphasis is on stressed syllables - with the exception of the unstressed /ər/, as in mother and actor. (Betts, "Stress: Syllable and Phrase," 1976)
5. Function, or structure, words - i.e., and, for - as a facet of intonation and as special problems in phonics have been considered elsewhere in this series of reports. (Betts, "Function Words: Grammatical Indicators," 1977)
6. Syllabication of words was not deemed to be relevant to this report. Note the disagreements, shared by phonemicists, among lexicographers:
Webster's (G. & C.)
Thorndike-Barnart Elem.
7. Of the proposed spelling reforms, especially for an initial learning medium, only two included dictionaries WES and i.t.a. Hence, these two proposals were listed for respellings of phonograms.
8. No attempt has been made to critique the proposals of orthographers and amateur alphabeteers. Instead, a delineation of some of the issues relevant to the uses of the letter r has been made, basic to spelling reform.
9. Only one facet of phonics - symbol r - has been very briefly discussed. The meagerness of phonic methods and some of the ways to confuse learners, however, are spotlighted.
10. This report does not justify any one phonics program or any one spelling reform proposal. Although the attitude toward phonics is endemic in parents, teachers and the general public, there is significant evidence that polemicists actually contribute substantially to learning disabilities. Furthermore, spelling reform zealots contribute to the devastating confusion about phonics - when they concentrate on phonemic spellings without a grounding in phonemics, perception, or appropriate methodology. (Betts, "Spelling and Phonics," 1976)
This report does focus, however, on some of the facts regarding the loose fit between writing and speaking. Phonic rules appear to be self-defeating when applied to graphic r in vowel situations. For example, phonogram ar represents /är/ in arm, /or/ in warm, /aər/ in wary, and unstressed /ər/ in dollar. On the other side of the phonics coin, the stressed /ər/ is represented by ir in bird, ur in hurt, er in fern, or in (w)ork, ear in heard - to mention a few - plus /ər/ in unstressed syllables. These confusing phonic situations are products of highly variable spellings and do not fit the "simple rules" claimed by some phonic zealots.
This report, then, does bring into bold relief the need to give serious consideration to the hazards of the English spelling system for both native beginners and foreigners intent on learning English as a second language. At the same time, orthographers, especially amateur alphabeteers, are cautioned regarding variability in the phonemic basis of r in vowel situations.
11. Morphemes - determined on the basis of etymology - are not considered in this report. Since some students of orthography do emphasize the morphological basis of the English writing system, this facet of the spelling problem merits serious consideration.

Pronunciation Symbols.

In 1888, the International Phonetic Association (founded in 1866) published the first edition of the International Phonetic Alphabet (I.P.A.), revised in 1951. With some additions made by American phoneticians, this phonetic alphabet is used today in "narrow" transcriptions.

Fred West explains phonemics and phonetics this way:
"The phone is the speech sound as it is actually made, and falls under phonetics; the phoneme is the speech sound as it is interpreted by the hearer, and falls under phonemics." (p. 90)

West adds: A phoneme "is the smallest unit of meaningful sound in a given language." (p. 98)

Pronunciation symbols are signalled by different types of enclosures:
Phonetic - brackets
[ɣ] as in ladd(er)
[ɝ] as in (ear)n
[ɑ] as in f(a)rm
[r] as in (r)ed
Phonemics - virgules, or slant lines, or slashes
/i/ (barred i) as in furr(y)
/e/ as in m(e)rry
/o/ as in st(o)ry
/r/ as in (r)ed
/ɔ/ as in h(o)rse

Note See pp. 31-32 in Bronstein, The Pronunciation of American English, 1960, for a discussion of slant lines and brackets to enclose sounds.

Dictionary respellings.
1. Virgules \ \ (slanted to the left)
Webster's New Elementary Dictionary \'born\
Note: Because virgules slanted to the left are not available on our typewriters, this report encloses respellings in virgules slanted to the right.

2. Parentheses.
Scott, Foresman Beginning Dictionary (bôrn)
Note: Dictionaries of many other publishers also use parentheses to enclose respellings to show pronunciations.

Dictionaries: Phonemic Respellings.

For this report, two elementary dictionaries were used consistently:

Webster's New Elementary Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam-Webster American Book Co., 1975

E. L. Thorndike/Clarence L. Barnhart, Scott, Foresman Beginning Dictionary, Scott, Foresman & Co., 1976

In addition, other higher-level dictionaries were used (1) to identify respellings of words not in the beginning dictionaries, and (2) to indicate other respellings:

Webster's New Secondary School Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, American Book Co., 1959.

E. L. Thorndike/Clarence L. Barnhart, Thorndike-Barnhart Advanced Junior Dictionary, Third Edition, Scott-Foresman & Co., 1965.

Webster's New World Dictionary, The World Publishing Co., 1961.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, College Edition, Random House, Inc., 1969.

The World Book Dictionary (A Thorndike-Barnhart Dictionary), Field Enterprises Educational Corp, 1976.

Speech Development: The r Situation.

Articulation of consonant sounds appear to develop late in the acquisition of language, according to Irene Poole (In Newer Practices in Reading in the Elementary School, DESP Yearbook, 1938). While articulation of /b/, /p/, /m /w/, and /h/ appears early - about three to five years, the articulation of /r/, along with /z/, /s/, and /hw/ appears late - about 8.0 years - for many reasons (e.g., lisping caused by dentation at ages 5 to 7).

Carrell and Tiffany comment:
"For reasons not entirely clear, [r] and the r-colored vowels appear to be the most difficult sounds for children to learn. Sounds within these phonemes are typically the last to be acquired during the developmental period, and one of the most common characteristics of infantile speech is the use of [w] for [r]". (Phonetics, McGraw-Hill, 1960, p. 215)

West, Kennedy, and Carr identify five types of defective [r] (p. 221):
1. Infantile (w substitute, wain for rain)
2. Omission of prevocalic r (tain for train)
3. The [l] substitute
4. Labiodentalized [r] ("Especially noted when [r] follows [p] or [b]")
5. Foreign language substitute

The complexity of speech problems relevant to /r/ sounds is delineated by Carrell and Tiffany:
"It is well known that the r sounds pose more pronunciation problems than any other group for anyone trying to master good American speech. Within the phoneme there is a wide range of perfectly acceptable sounds, depending upon such factors as stress and context. A large number of substandard pronunciations are also heard with great frequency." (Carrell & Tiffany, Phonetics, McGraw-Hill, 1960, p. 214)

Pronounceable Graphic Units.

Much confusion in phonics has risen from attempts to pronounce consonants in isolation from a word. Why the confusion? Proponents of letter phonics have perpetuated "sounding out" words letter by letter; e.g., requiring the pupil to pronounce cart as "kuh-ar-tuh" /kə-är-tə/. Since the pronunciation "kuh-ar-tuh" has no relationship to the pronunciation /kart/, the beginner in reading is totally confused, as an adult would be if an otherwise sane teacher would say to him, "kuh-ar-tuh, what is the word?"

Attempts at the pronunciation of consonants in isolation produce unidentifiable distortions. First, sibilants (hissing sounds) may be prolonged, but they are distorted as /s-s-s-s/ for s. Second, voiceless stops (as indicated above) become "(p)uh, (t)uh, (k)uh," and the voiced stops become "(b)uh, (d)uh, (g)uh." Third, consonantal r /r/ cannot be pronounced in isolation without converting to /ər/, confusing indeed! Therefore, it is readily seen that consonants need a vowel, as in bir or ird of bird, to avoid distorted pronunciations. Hence, a pronounceable unit is a consonant-vowel or a vowel-consonant.

Then, too, spelling pronunciations may cause trouble. The avid young reader may pronounce rumor /rüm-ər/ as "/rəm-ər/."

That spelling pronunciation of words, especially /ər/, has plagued national television and radio commentators cannot be gainsaid. For example:

Spelling Reform: Basic Research.

Reform Spelling.
Before an initial teaching medium or all-out spelling reform can be presented to the public and their politicians, much basic research is required on a number of problems and issues:

1. Discriminability of graphic symbols, e.g., letters o and c

2. Spellings of stressed syllables, including both primary and secondary stress; e.g., confirmation /,kən-fər-'ma-shən/ (primary stress on third syllable, secondary stress on first syllable)

3. Spellings of unstressed syllables; e.g., er of agent as in teach(er )

4. Graphemic differentiation of homophones; e.g., whole-hole

5. Use of two-letter ligatures; e.g., fl for fl, æ

6. Morphology of spellings versus direct spelling-to-sound relationships (See Scragg, A History of English Spelling, 1974, p. 96; Lounsbury, English Spelling and Spelling Reform, 1909.)

7. Compatibility of graphic symbols with traditional orthography
a. Printed symbols in reading matter - capital and lower case letters
b. Cursive and manuscript symbols for ease of handwriting

8. Causes of reading disabilities of which an outdated orthography is one; e.g., emotional aberrations, visual and hearing handicaps, psycho-neurological anomalies

9. Educational malpractice, including regimented and self-defeating methodology, a lack of prerequisites for courses in methodology, and so on

10. Gradual spelling reform versus total re-appraisal of the writing system and sub-systems (e.g., spellings in terms of phonemics, morphemics, syntactics, form classes, perception and recognition - i.e., phonotactics and graphotactics in terms of psychological processes)

11. Gemination, or double consonant letters (e.g., ha(pp)y)

12. Compound graphemes (e.g., voiced and voiceless th, ph for f)

Furthermore, Classen comments on
"what a composite character is the English system of spelling ... It appears during the Old English period spelling was fairly uniform, thanks partly to the fact that West Saxon had risen to the dignity of a standard literary language. In the Middle English period, though writers no doubt still sought to write phonetically, uniformity was impossible because the dialects had again come into their own, and it was not until Chaucer's example created a standard language for literature that there was again an approach to uniformity. At the end of the fifteenth century came the first printed books and with them spelling became to a large extent fixed." (p. 272)

Classen concludes:
"In this [printing] lay all the positive advantages which flow from uniformity and system, but on the other hand there was the disadvantage that the spelling from this time onward ceased to represent the pronunciation of the spoken language. Hence, our Modern English spelling really represents the sounds of the fifteenth or sixteenth century." (p. 273)

Spelling reform, especially an i.t.m., appears to be an imperative for effective phonics instruction. Antagonists to reform include Chomsky who "believes" that traditional orthography is an optimum writing system. Protagonists of reform include most linguists, many philologists, psycholinguists, and some enlightened educators. For example, the distinguished phonemicist and pragmatist Kenneth L. Pike who urges a practical orthography:
"A practical orthography should be phonemic. There should be a one-to-one correspondence between each phoneme and the symbolization of each phoneme." (p. 208)
"In a phonemic orthography, spelling does not have to be remembered as an arbitrary set of rules." (p. 209)

Those who protest any reform of our "intricate and confusing" spelling enjoy membership in the exclusive Society for the Defense of the Status Quo (facetiously defined as "the mess we are in"). They need to form a coalition with the Ancient Order of Regimenters and Standardizers who have contributed mightily for centuries to the de-escalation of reading instruction.

High Frequency Words.

Commonest words tend to be irregularly spelled and constitute a relatively high percentage of the running words on a page:
No. of Words
Percent (%)

Three words (types) - a, and, the - comprise 10% of running words (tokens) in common use. Fifty words (types) comprise 50% of the running words (tokens). Eight of these 50 commonest words use graphic r: are, for from, letter, our, very your, yours.

Of Fitzgerald's 109 words misspelled 10% or more of the time by third graders, 41 use graphic r. These included "demons" of other lists; e.g., near, first, learn, birds, right. (James Fitzgerald, "The Vocabulary of Spelling Errors of Third-Grade Children's Life Letters," Elementary School Journal, XXXVIII, March 1938, pp. 518-527)

At the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade levels, Fitzgerald identified 100 spelling "demons." Thirty-seven percent used graphic r; e.g., their, where, sure, early, heard. (James Fitzgerald, "The Vocabulary of Children's Letters Written in Life Outside the School," Elementary School Journal, XXXIV, January 1934, pp. 358-370)

The r Situation: Phonics.

Phonemes represented by the graphic r have been by-passed by authors of professional textbooks, especially of textbooks on phonics. (In fact, very little, if any, attention is given to phonics in most of today's professional textbooks.) There are several reasons why the r issue has been skirted by educators.

First, considerable scholarship is required in phonology, especially in phonemics, to avoid the pitfalls inherent in r situations. For example, some authors of elementary school dictionaries which introduced the phonemic concept of respellings have made significant shifts toward phonetic emphasis in unabridged dictionaries. Furthermore, knowledge of either phonemics or dictionary pronunciation symbols is NOT a prerequisite for a professional course in the teaching of reading. Hence, confusion tends to reign supreme, causing word perception to be a puzzlement for teacher and learner alike.

Second, scholarship is required in orthography - the writing system - to understand the relationships between phonemes and the spellings used to represent them. As we shall see, graphic r has a multiplicity of roles in the English writing system. For this and other reasons, tyros become bogged down in a sea of rules, vitiating phonics as a sole approach to word perception.

Third, a "working knowledge" of grammar, especially morphology, is necessary to fully understand the relationships between language (i.e., speech) and writing. Grammar is a keystone to both perception (e.g., syntactic cues to constraints) and cognition (e.g., semantic and pragmatic constraints).

Fourth, knowledge of perceptual learning (e.g., category, cue, probability, alternation), factors in perception (e.g., need, feedback, grouping or chunking of pronounceable units, perceptual and cognitive closure, etc.) (Betts, "Word Perception: Processes and Medium," 1975)

[There was no item 5 in the article.]

Sixth, awareness of need for differentiated guidance as a basis for all teaching and, therefore, learning. (Betts, "Reading: A Class is Plural," 1978)

Spelling reform has become a series of bipartisan issues: the pros resorting to polemics to gain a writing system that fits contemporary speech; the cons, equally polemic, offer a whole spectrum of rationalizations why they believe in perpetuating traditional orthography (T.O.) as an "optimum'.' system. Neither side has done their homework; e.g., on false etymology in T.O., phonology basic to a writing system, signals of vowel sounds, discriminability of graphic signals, and a spate of other problems. In short, discussions of spelling reform are prime examples of perpetual emotion.

Alexander Wolcott, after reviewing a play, is quoted as saying: "The scenery of the play was beautiful, but the actors got in front of it." Perhaps a valid parody on Wolcott's cynicism might read: The background of spelling reform is quite appealing, but prejudgements preclude veridical perception of the problems.

Spelling: Hard Spots.

In 1937, Gates published A List of Spelling Difficulties in 3876 Words in which he identified the hard spots in words. From these data, the hard spots in Fitzgerald's 41 r-words were studied by this writer:

1. Phonogram ar was the hard spot in warm, star, March, and garden.

2. Initial r in right, radio, rabbit, room caused no spelling problems; instead the hard spot in each word varied from rite for right, rabit for rabbit to raido for radio and roon for room.

3. Of the eight words with r consonant clusters, seven (brown, dresses, friend, cream, fruit, draw) presented spelling problems with the vowels but not with the clusters; April, however, was misspelled Apirl 42% of the time.

4. Of the six words with stressed /ər/, all presented spelling difficulties - u and ir for ur in church, ri for ir in first and birds, u for urn in hurry, er and ar for ear in learn, a for o in word.

5. Of the ten words with unstressed /ər/, only three presented spelling difficulties - ar for er in father, er for or in doctor, r for er in flowers.

6. The wr in write was the hard spot, with 48% misspelling in grade three.

7. The vowel plus r was the hard spot in before, fourth, merry, morning, near, hour, every, your.

In 1938, Fitzgerald identified 50 words misspelled by third-grade children. Forty-one (82%) of these misspelled words included r words; e.g., draw, learn, your, warm.

Gates and Bennett included in their test of 30 words three r words: star, war, tar - ten percent of the total. (1933)

Every classroom teacher has noted pupil word-perception problems with r situations; e.g., very for every, were for where, where for there, and so on.

Consonant r /r/.

The consonant r is a voiced, retroflex continuant - sometimes called a glide. Some speakers in the Southeast and in New England do not pronounce final /r/ as such.

Thomas comments on the change from non-syllabic [r] to syllabic r [ə]:
". . . in such words as better and ladder what was once consonantal [r] has become syllabic [ə ] or [ɚ]." (Phonetics of American English, p. 101)

The phoneme /r/ is represented by r (red), wr (write), rh (rhyme). In general, however, the r spelling is quite regular.

Wijk further states:
"The only important change that has taken place since the spelling became fixed is the weakening of the r sound in final and pre-consonantal positions." (Regularized English, p. 249)

The multiple use of the letter r is reflected in the spelling reform advocated by Ripman and Archer:
"The letter r has many different values according to its position and according to local usage. We propose to leave r wherever it occurs in the spelling of today, except where it is doubled, where as a rule only one r need be written ...

In certain categories of words, however, it seems essential, in order to avoid ambiguity, to use double rr. These comprise words like carry, sorry and hurry ... " (Ripman & Archer, New Spelling, 1948, p. 28)

They continue:
"It is therefore suggested that no double consonants be retained, except in . . . (b) compounds involving rr (e.g., earring); (c) special case words like carry (p. 46), sorry (p. 56), and hurry (p. 59) ..." (Ripman & Archer, p. 36)

Consonant Clusters.

A consonant cluster is two or more adjacent consonant sounds within the same syllable as /dr/ of /'drem/ dream , and /skr/ of /'scrach/ scratch. Considerable information has been accumulated on the phonotactics of consonant clusters. For example, /r/ never comes after /s/ or /h/; but initial clusters beginning with a non-syllabic /p/, /t/, /k/, /b/, /d/, /g/, /f/, voiceless /th/, /sh/, /sp/, /st/, /sk/, may be followed by /r/. (See Bloomfield, pp. 131-133; Trager and Smith, p. 35; Thomas, pp. 57-59; Gleason, p. 357.)

In discussing "The Number of Morphemes in English," Warfel states that about 24% of possible two-letter consonant clusters are used in English:
"The statistics of English spelling show that of the 576 two-letter consonant combinations possible in English, only 137 are in use; of the 11,000 three-letter consonantal combinations, only 40 or so are used. As letters are added, the number of possible combinations increases, but the percentage of those actively employed goes down correspondingly. It is possible to assert, therefore, that a principle of economy exists on the morphemic and word level as it does on the phonemic level of language. A few units must and do carry the burden of meaning; they can do so because they mean nothing in themselves but only what the system makes possible." (p. 114)

In 1923, Godfrey Dewey tabulated initial vowel and consonant situations (100,000 running words in 15 genres) of an adult vocabulary. An examination of his frequency of occurence data revealed that 67% of the syllables in his corpus were initiated by consonants; 33%, by vowels. Of the initial consonant situations, 47% were consonant clusters; almost half (44%) of these consonant clusters included /r/.

Dewey's eleven initial consonant /r/ clusters included:
Initial sound (cluster)

To Dewey's list, /shr/ as in shred, shrew, shrill, and shrine can be added. These words were not in his corpus.

The above data appear to validate Bloomfield's statement:
"... English is especially rich in consonant clusters."(p. 136)

Scholarly accidents can and do happen at the confluence of phonology and orthography. Witness the faux pas by Venezky (The Structure of orthography, 1970, p. 81) when he listed the vowel /ər/ as "Final r clusters":
rb herb
rd bird
rg berg
rf surf
rth mirth
rch birch
rm term
rn urn
rl curl
rpt excerpt
rst first
rld world

Venezky's three other examples in this list were vowels plus r (i.e., post-vocalic r's) usually classified as centering diphthongs. In any event, neither final nor initial consonant clusters are pronounceable units in isolation from vowel sounds. Furthermore, Venezky's three remaining examples of consonant clusters - rp of sharp, -rt of smart, - rch of march - can be challenged on the basis of this report. (See /ar/ below.) But Venezky seems to have company, including some phoneticians.

Vowel Phoneme /ər/, Stressed and Unstressed.

(ir as in bird and er in baker)
Phonemics (allophones of /r/, Bronstein, p. 177)
/ɚ/ hooked schwa, unstressed syllables
/ɝ/ hooked, reversed epsilon, stressed syllables, central vowel

Dictionary symbols.
Webster (G & C)
Random House
/ər/ for stressed and unstressed
(er) for stressed, (ər) for unstressed
(ûr) for stressed, (ər) for unstressed

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, two symbols are used to indicate the pronunciation of /ər/ in stressed syllables:
[ɝ] hooked reversed epsilon to indicate the pronunciation of ir in bird in most dialects of General American speech.
[ɜ] reversed epsilon to indicate pronunciations of ir in bird; for example, in Southern England and parts of Eastern and Southern United States - both epsilons only in stressed syllables.

Vowel Phoneme /ər/:Unstressed.

Phoneme /ər/: Linguistics

In terms of phonology and grammar (i.e., linguistically and orthographically), unstressed /ər/ usually spelled er, ar, and or is:
A phoneme /ɚ/

A syllable /ər/

A phonogram (e.g. er)

A derivational ending (e.g. summ(er) )

An inflectional ending (e.g., hott(er) )

A bound morpheme (e.g., batt(er) )

Sledd recommends the use of /ər/ to transcribe the unstressed situation:
"In transcribing the unstressed syllables of words like dinner, mother, bothered, etc., most speakers should use /ər/ if they have a final preconsonantal /r/, and /ə/ if they have not /r/ in these positions." (p. 55)

The er in father "is the 'r-colored' central vowel heard in such syllables throughout the country (U.S.A.), except in the 'r-less' areas of the country, the South, Eastern New England, and, for many, the New York City area." (Bronstein, The Pronunciation of American English, Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1960, p. 177)

Bronstein continues:
"Although any vowel may precede [ə] or [ɚ] to produce a centering diphthongal glide, there are five common centering diphthongs. These are [ɪə], [ɛə], [ɑə], [ɔə], [uə], and their 'r-colored' variants [ɪɚ], [ɛɚ], [ɑɚ], [ɔɝ] [uɝ] in the words fear, care, far, for, and poor." (p. 200)

In 1949, Kenyon and Knott appear to have settled the issue:
"The symbol ɝ represents the accented form of the so-called 'r-colored' vowel used in the first syllable of further ['fɝ-ðə] by those who do not drop their r's. . . The consonantal r sound that formerly followed the vowel (hence the present spelling) long ago merged with the preceding vowel and disappeared as a separate sound, though its effect is still heard in the r-coloring of the vowel. The simple proof of the nature of the present sound is that the vowel cannot be pronounced separately from the r without producing a quite different sound, ... " (p. xix)

Unstressed /ər/: Phonograms and Respellings.

sceptre (or sceptr)
G.&C. Merriam Webster's

Reform Spellings: Unstressed /ər/.

(not available)
mæ or
mæ or
N. A.
N. A.
N. A.
N. A.

Note 1: Rules for retaining or respelling of unstressed /ər/ are given on page 23 of the Dewey WES Dictionary (1969) but are not available in the i.t.a. dictionary.
Note 2: The Anglic Alfabet apparently respells stressed /ər/ as ur and unstressed /ər/ as er. (as in WES)
Note 3: In The i/t/a Handbook for Writing and Spelling, revised edition, 1965, the following respellings were given for unstressed /ər/:

Note 4: In his Transliteration Guide from i.t.a. to WES, Dewey states: For i.t.a. r, "Write unstressed schwa before r, usually by er; unless t.o. has a, i, or o." (p. 3) Examples of WES: further, calendar, parlor.

A small sampling of Wijk's Regularized English reveals these spellings of unstressed /ər/:
T. O.
Wijk R. E.

Wijk's rules read:
"The murmur vowel is very common for post-tonic ar in both preconsonantal and final positions." (p. 153)
Examples: afterwards, orchard, collar
"The murmur vowel is only found in a few words ... " in post-tonic position. (p. 195)
Examples: elixir, martyr.

Hunter, in 1930, commented on the history of "orthographic inconsistencies":
"Another feature to be observed is the manner in which orthographic inconsistence, as in the use of different symbols, or group of symbols, to represent the same sound, are often avoided; ... Further, the rules which compel us to write scholar, butcher, terror, honour, figure, etc. had, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not attained their force, and spellings like scholler, color, tuture (tutor) are quite common." (p. 7)

Vowel Phoneme /ər/, Stressed.

Stressed /ər/, usually spelled ur, ir, or (after w), er, is:
A phoneme /ɝ/
A syllable nucleus (e.g., b(ir)d)
A phonogram (e.g., er in her)
A digraph (e.g., er)
A morpheme (e.g., err)

Phonology: Stressed /ər/.

Generally speaking /ər/ is classified as a vowel sound, but it is also considered to be a complex one. Consider these views:
"In the pronunciation of many Americans, /at/ is phonetically a single /r/-like vowel." (Gleason, An Introduction to Descriptive Linguistics, 1961, p. 39)

"The combination [ar] is a complex sound, which, since it includes the glide [r], is characterized by movement rather than a fixed position of the speech organs." (Prator, Manual of American English Pronunciation, 1957, p. 104)

Bronstein comments on a special r situation:
"[ɜ] may become [ɜ] plus [r] when the r sound is intervocalic, as in burrow and hurry. The difference is essentially a shift in the syllabication of the word. Those speakers who use [ɝ] split the word as [b Unicode"'>ɝ-o], the others split the word as [bɜ-ro]." (The Pronunciation of American English, 1960, p.17)

Kantner and West emphasize the allophones of phoneme /r/:
" ... the r phoneme contains many variations of sounds, usually considered as consonants. [ɝ], however, because it is a continuant sound of some length, and because it is produced through an orifice large enough to prevent the formation of friction noises is generally grouped with the vowels and called a vowelized r." (Kantner & West, p. 88)

Wise opines:-
". . . the characteristic of the consonant [r] which distinguishes it from the two vowelized r's, viz., [ɝ] and [ɚ], appears to be rapidity of motion; or, approaching it from another point of view, it is the mobility of the consonant r to be syllabic. Conversely, the greater duration of [ɜ] and [ə], coupled with their syllabicity, constitutes the vowel characteristic of these two sounds." (Introduction to Phonetics, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957, p. 132)

Sledd discusses the complexity of stressed/ar/ situations:
". . . In transcribing the unstressed syllables of words like dinner, mother, bothered, etc., most speakers would use /ər/ if they have a final and preconsonantal /r/, and /ə/ if they have no /r/ in these positions.

In transcribing words like third and turn, more difficulty may be encountered. Either these words will contain an /r/, or they will not. The vowel will usually be either mid central or high central (though some /r/-less dialects will have a diphthong /əɪ/). And the vowel in /r/-ful dialects may be either short (/ər/, /ir/), or long (/ə:r/, /i:r/). These /r/-producing speakers who contrast short and long vowels in pairs like sorry /ɑ/ and starry (/ɑ:/), hurry (/ə/) and furry (/ə:/) should normally write a long vowel; speakers with no such contrasts should normally write a short vowel." (James Sledd, A Short Introduction to English Grammar, Scott, Foresman & Co., 1959, pp. 55-56)

Bronstein explains:#
"The stressed vowel of the preconsonantal sound in burn and earn is another allophone of /r/ in American English, and is represented by the phonetic symbols [ɜ] or [ɜ]." (p. 119)

Kurath emphasizes "drastic changes" in vowels before r:
"The ME [Middle English] vowels, both short and long, suffered drastic changes before an /r/ of the same syllable, as in fir, fern, for, fur, here, hare, more, poor, and only less so before intersyllabic /r/, as in spirit, merry, carry, borrow, furrow, hero, Mary, story, fury ...

The general effect of /r/ was to lower and to centralize the articulation of the vowel preceding it, especially if it belonged to the same syllable. From this effect it is safe to infer that postvocalic /r/was velarized, as it still is in the west of England and in America." (Hans Kurath, A Phonology and Prosody of Modern English, Univ. of Michigan Press, 1964, p. 27)

Dictionary Respellings of /ər/.

The following is a short sample of words to compare respellings of stressed /ər/ in two dictionaries:
G. & C. Merriam Webster's
/wər, 'wər/

Note: In the above words, both Webster's (G. & C. Merriam) and Thorndike-Barnhart made consistent use of symbols.

T.O. Spellings of /ər/, Stressed.


Reform Spellings (initial teaching medium) of Stressed /ər/.

In the following list of words, compare WES and i.t.a. respellings:

Note: In the above words W.E.S. uses ur and urr to represent stressed /ər/. On the other hand, i.t.a. uses four spellings: er, ir, ur, urr.
Note 2: In The i/t/a Handbook for Writing and Spelling, Revised edition, 1965, the following respellings are given for stressed /ər/.
T.O. Characters
ear, er
it, irr
earn, fern
girl, stirring
ern, fern
girl, stirring
Note 3: In his transliteration guide from i.t.a. to WES, Dewey states:
For i.t.a. -r, "Write stressed schwa before r always by ur." (p. 3) Examples: further, hur, furst
Note 4: "The characters is used in the strong and stressed her, sir, arthur, martys." (Pitman, 1964, p. 32)
Note 5: "... r (er) was added to make the neutral or central vowel (schwa) more effectively characterized in the single word 'colonel' and whenever spelled in the traditional orthography with an r following e, i, u, or y. This made the doubling of the r in very, etc. no longer necessary, e.g.,
bert but beri-beri
cur but curry
sir but irak (Iraq)
myrr but syrup
and in the four corresponding unstressed forms such as muther, elixir, arthur, and martyr." (Ibid, p. 33)
[ita characters marked in dark green should have an approach stroke.]

A quick sampling of Wijk's Regularized English reveals these spellings of stressed /ər/:
Wijk R. E.

In his Rules of Pronunciation for the English Language, Wijk lists three rules for stressed /ər/:
"The first long pronunciation [ə:(r)]: her, deter, infer. ." (p. 43)
"The first long pronunciation [ə:(r)]: fir, sir, stir ... " (p. 44)
"The first long pronunciation [ə:(r)]: cur, fur, furred. ." (p. 44)

In 1930, Zachrisson commented on his "Anglic Muuvment":
"Anglic oenly aims at bringing ordr into the prezent confuzion by jeneralizeng the moste comon ov the egzisting speling vaerients. Thus ... ur for the sound in urn, dern, third, learn, now rendrd in 16 waes." (In Ripman, et al, 1930, p. 12)

Phonics: /ər/, Stressed and Unstressed.

More confusion than learning is produced by programs with the mystic label phonics. In fact, facets of effective phonics dealing with both stressed and unstressed /ər/ appear to be non-existent.

Durrell and Sullivan tend to emphasize letter phonics rather than vowel-consonant (e.g., urch in church) or consonant-vowel (e.g., chur in church) phonograms. Furthermore, they put all the r situations in one category. Hence, their treatment of /ər/:
"These words end in r. Say them after me: after, alligator, bear, beaver, car, door, farmer, hair, etc. Are you ready to tell me the words that end in r?" (1941, p. 53)

In her The Word Method of Teaching Phonics, Cordts emphasized "sight" words:
"Purpose: To learn to recognize at sight the syllable ending er
Procedure: Step 1. Write on the blackboard these words: deep, deeper, neat, neater, etc." (p. 290)

As evident, Cordts employed visual and auditory contrast (e.g., deep-deeper) for directing attention to the syllable /ər/ spelled er.

In a previous activity, she violated stress by referring the pupils to "frame and pronounce" the unstressed last syllable. (p. 288)

Later, Cordts provided an activity
"To learn that the syllable endings er, or, and ar have similar sounds." (p. 292)

She suggested that the teacher:
"Write on the blackboard: rob, robber, beg, beggar, etc."
You may say: "We have already learned the syllable er ending has the sound (ur). Today we are going to see if there are any other syllables that have the same sound. This will be a lesson for sharp eyes and sharp ears. Who is ready to frame and pronounce the words on the blackboard? Let us all look carefully each time at the syllable that ends the word." (p. 292)

In her Word Recognition and Discrimination Development, Smith was content to limit her phonics to listening and discussing:
"New words: kite, paper, sticks
In discussing these new words, have the children listen for the p in paper. Compare with put, pulled, pullman, Polly, and play ... " (p. 17)

Too often, however, Smith merely listed new words:
"New words: turkey, sweater, catch" (p. 20)
"New words: while turned" (p. 38)
"New words: hanger, light" (p. 50)

Later, Smith follows a hazardous "finding a word within a word" plan:
"New words: head, winter, old
Assist children to work out the word winter by finding the little word in, combining it with w, and then trying to fit a word that begins with win into the context of the sentence." (p. 39)

The above is fraught with possible confusion because some teachers reach the zenith of silliness by having the pupils find he in her. Furthermore, this is a weak use of context clues because there are several possibilities; e.g., syntactic, morphologic, semantic.

Much confusion is created by authors of basic readers who have little or no understanding of phonemics. Consider this sample of naivete in Gray's Developing Word-Attack Skills - Grades 1-3:
"When the vowel e is followed by r, it has neither the long nor short sound. It usually sounds the way it does in these words. Write the words corner, matter, paper, mother, roller, wonder, other. Have the pupils pronounce each word and point to the letters er." (p. 32)

The above sample of obfuscation has several strikes on it:
1. The phoneme is /ər/, an unstressed vowel sound is spelled er.
2. Pupil need, as a factor in perception, to learn this ending is defaulted.
"To avoid mere 'word getting' provide sentences for the children to read which will emphasize the importance of this phonogram as an aid to thought getting.
 Sister will answer the letter.
After dinner we will gather flowers.
The water runs under the bridge.
The farmer's dog ran after the paper kite.
Illustrate how word variants are formed by adding er and let children change words by adding er to such words as near, fast, slow, soon, hard, soft. Have children make up sentences containing both forms of the word. For example:
 I have a long pencil.
Bob's pencil is longer than mine.
Jane is six years old.
Susan is older than Jane." (p. 31)

In their Writing Road to Reading, Spalding and Spalding recommend their Unified Phonics Method for
" ... accurate speaking, spelling, writing, and reading - as one integrated subject." (p. 80 They further state: "There is a reason or rule to cover almost every spelling in English. A study of word formation and euphony has contributed to formulating a set of easily learned, simple rules which explain and govern the spelling of all words suitable to each school grade, with surprisingly few, easily learned exceptions." (pp. 27-28)

Spalding and Spalding introduce either naivete or shysterism into the justification of their highly questionable method:
"The Unified Phonics Method of teaching enables every child in a group to acquire the unilateral dominance necessary for reading without delay or disturbing the progress of those fortunate few who are born with it." (p. 29)

Here is a sample of the Spalding's proposal for teaching the spellings of /ər/:
"Her first nurse works early.

This sentence gives five spellings of the sound "er" and it should be memorized. Their phonogram cards are numbered 27 to 32. The spelling er is used most often.

Rule 8. or may say "er" when w comes before the or, as in works. There are few other guides in the choice of the spelling of the sound "er."
"First dictate the sentence containing the five spellings of the sound "er." It sits on the top line of this page. Teach each word as described for teaching words on page one. Then dictate the five words across the second line, and so on.

Check the children's knowledge of this page by asking, for example, "Which 'er' is in church?" The answer is, "The one in nurse." (The word in the model sentence at the top of the page.) Do this same checking with any word having an "er" sound.

For children who find spelling difficult it is advisable to consider or and ar as having only the sounds as in for and far - not the sound er as in doctor and collar. In speaking, the or of doctor and the ar of collar deteriorate in sound because the accent is on the first syllable. In writing them say 'doc tor' and 'col lar.' " (p. 104)

These comments are relevant to the above. First, their "rule 8" covers only w plus or. The other "simple reasons or rules" are omitted. Second, the syllabication of the word collar /'kal-ər/ is based on the vocabulary entry col-lar rather than the respellings in the dictionary - a gross violation in phonics. Third, phonemes and spellings (phonograms) are confused in the question, "Which 'er' is in church?"

In his On Their Own in Reading, W. S. Gray taught "the consonant r as a clue to the vowel sound" under one general heading:
"On the basis of known words like arm, barn, park, her, herd, term, bird, girl, first, north, fort, corn, burn, curl, fur, pupils note that if the consonant letter r follows the vowel letter, the vowel letter probably does not stand for a short vowel sound but for an r-controlled sound." (p. 43)

W. S. Gray suggested that the learner's listening and speaking activities prepare the learner for unstressed /ər/:
"Through listening to and using in their own speech. . . such forms of comparison as big, bigger, biggest, pupils also become aware that the endings -s, -ed, -ing, -er, and - est carry meaning." (p. 56)

Gray also recommended teaching phonogram er as a suffix:
"Such suffixes as -y, -ly, and -er of agent, which children encounter frequently in derived forms as they read, may be used to develop understanding of suffixes as meaning units." (p. 57)

Relating phonogram er to grammar and semantics was heavily emphasized by Gray:
"On the basis of such known inflected and derived forms as bigger, earliest, and driver, children learn that the spelling of a root word often changes when an ending or a suffix is added. For example, the final consonant may be doubled as in bigger, muddy, shopping; the final y may be changed to i as in earliest, busily, cried; the final e of a root word may be dropped before an ending or a suffix as in baking, driver, greasy. By studying such words in sentences, children strengthen the understanding that the meaning of the root is present in an inflected or derived form even though the spelling may change." (pp. 57-58)

On the other hand, Gray's word-perception program reflects strength in many areas, including meaning clues to root wards and affixes, semantics, selected dictionary skills (e.g., pronunciation symbols), cognitive closure, homonyms, homographs, syntax (e.g., derivatives and inflected forms), and a number of other pluses.

But Gray confused the issue via an unrealistic approach to syllabication. For example, he stated this rule:
"If the first vowel letter in a word is followed by two consonant letters, the first syllable usually ends with the first of the two consonants." (p. 127)

For illustrations, he used ladder and slender.
lad der
slen der
Vocabulary Entry
G & C Merriam Webster's

This confusion of the syllabicated vocabulary entry and the syllabicated respelling to indicate pronunciation has compounded the learner's frustration. It should be quite obvious that an effective phonics program is based on the dictionary respelling, not on the vocabulary entry. Furthermore, reading motivation is better served by authors of textbooks - pupil and professional - and by teachers of teachers who understand gemination and other facets of orthography as well as phonology and grammar.

Gray commented on double consonant letters (gemination) but confused the issue by (1) failing to recognize the syllabication in dictionary respellings to indicate pronunciation and (2) offering the time-worn, catch-all, and ambiguous phonic rules (cliches) regarding "the vowel sound controlled by r":
"Recall that two consonant letters are a clue to accent and to vowel sound in two-syllable root words like cannon, supper, kitten. Then comment that a doubled consonant letter before an ending or suffix is also a clue to accent and to vowel sound. To illustrate, write the words forgetting, admitted, beginner, preferring. Ask which syllable is accented in the root word of each. Is the vowel sound in that syllable long, short, or r-controlled? Then call attention to the doubled consonant before the ending or suffix; bring out that two like consonant letters before an ending or a suffix are a clue to an unaccented final syllable in the root word and to a short vowel sound in that syllable except when the vowel sound is controlled by r." (William S. Gray, On Their Own in Reading, Revised edition, Scott, Foresman & Co., 1960, p. 144)

Williams recommended introducing the phonogram er - both stressed and unstressed /er/ - in one activity:
"To teach the phonogram er, have children identify it in familiar words such as her, mother, father, over, and other which should be written on the board. After the phonogram has thus been presented, write on the board words they will soon meet in their reading which contain the phonogram er and have the children pronounce them." (p. 31)

Later Williams "teaches" the phonogram er as an inflectional ending:
"The phonograms est and er have already been presented in simple sight words: rest, best, west, and over, other, mother, father.
Use these phonograms now as inflectional endings or suffixes with such adjectives as warm, cold, sweet, etc. to indicate comparison. "(p. 36)

Finally, Williams "teaches" suffix er:
"By the use of the following words ending in y it may be shown that only the words taking the suffix ing retain the y."
(Linda Williams, How to Teach Phonics, Hall & McCreary Co., 1941, p. 70)

(obfuscation continued)
3. The er is a syllable in
 mother /'məth-ər/ matter /'mat-ər/ other /'əth -ər/
4. The er is part of a syllable in
 roller /'rō-lər/ paper /'pā-par/ wonder /'wən-dər/

The sample has one redeeming feature: the pupils are directed to point to the letters er in mother, matter, other. Hence, the misconception of pointing to sounds in a written word was avoided.

On the other hand, Williams recommended teaching the phonogram both in isolated words and in a sentence context. This application in the context of the textbook is crucial in both cognition and recognition. Furthermore, she emphasized syntax and morphology by having the pupils add er to selected words - hopefully useful immediately in legitimate reading activities.
"The phonogram er
To teach the phonogram er, have the children identify it in familiar words such as. her, mother, father, over, and other which should be written on the board. After the phonogram has thus been presented, write on the board words they will soon meet in their reading which contain the phonogram er and have the children pronounce them."

Extant textbooks on the methodology of reading have introduced newer terms: graphemes, phonemes, morphemes, graphophonics. These terms replace letters, sounds, roots and affixes, sound-spellings without contributing to an improved teaching program.

Recent textbooks on the teaching of reading are really about reading rather than on how to teach reading, especially word perception. In general, only a very brief mention is made of "vowels controlled by r." For example, on page 54, Harris and Sipay list ir, or, etc. (performance of) as in teacher, sailor. Inflectional endings (e.g., er of warmer) are not mentioned in the index.

Fry quotes the usual "vowel plus r" rule:
"When the letter r follows a vowel, the vowel is usually neither long nor short." (p. 28)

He then discusses stressed vowel plus r in the following paragraph:
"First of all, the digraphs IR, ER, and UR all make the same sound, as seen in the example words "sir," "her," and "fur." Different dictionaries handle these vowels in different ways - short U's, schwas, etc. - but the sound is just like the consonant plus an /r/."

Fry discusses "Phonics: Our Alphabet, Phonemes, Methods" in chapter 2, pages 20-48. Here he reports on vowels and consonants, phonemes and graphemes, vowel principles (rules), homophones, phonics tests, but methods are conspicuously absent.
"Phonic Correspondences for Single Vowels, Vowel Combinations, and Vowel Generalizations" are listed on page 170 by Hall, Ribovich, and Ramig. But here only stressed "R-Controlled Vowels" are even listed: a-car, e-herd, i-bird, o-cord, u-fur. Of course, the vowel in herd, bird, fur is stressed /ər/, not e, i, u! Apparently, er, ir, and ur are not one of those graphophonic clues. A nod is given to consonant clusters (blends) with r on page 131; e.g., br, cr, str, etc.

Miller proposes:
"Phonic analysis is a very important word recognition technique also presented at the initial stages of reading instruction in most approaches. Phonic analysis involves determining the pronunciation and meaning of unknown words by associating phonemes (sounds) with the graphemes (symbols) that represent them." (p. 5)
In chapter 7, "Phonics," pages 97-117, she lists:
or with the magic e
ore, more, pore, snore, sore
or without the magic e
or, for, corn, horn (Miller, p. 104)
On pages 113-114, Miller lists among the vowels:
e herd, wear, earn, sergeant
a arm, air,
i bird
o or, worm
u fur
Incidental attention is given to suffix -er on page 180.

This is the phonics program in its entirety. It avoids crucial and basic issues in both the foundations of word perception and methodology. (Betts, "Reading: Phonics Countdown," 1974; Betts, "Spelling and Phonics," 1976)

Centering Diphthong /ar/ (ar as in far)

Phonemics: [ar]
(Bronstein, p. 117)
(Prator, "In short position before r," pp. 113, 120)
(Thomas, p. 90)
(Cordts, p.103)
(Kenyon, p. 222)
Random House

Classification: centering diphthong


Several symbols are used to designate the vowel sound in (a)re, h(ea)rt, h(o)t:
Trager & Smith
Carrel & Tiffany
Webster (G & C)
Random House
W.E.S. (Dewey)
/ä/ (two-dot a)
/ä/ (two-dot a)
/ä/ (two-dot a)
ɑ ("ahn")

Bronstein makes this comment regarding centering diphthongal glides:
"All front and back vowels may glide into the central vowels [ə] or [ Unicode"'>ɚ]. Words spelled with r following a vowel in the same syllable (such as fear and poor) are diphthongal forms in our language." (p. 199)

In terms of tongue position, the vowels /ər/ [ɝ] and /ər/ [ə] are mid vowels. That is, in the formation of the vowels, the highest part of the tongue is at the central area, or mid point, of the mouth.

For these r-colored vowels in b(ir)d and moth(er), the tongue tip is usually turned up toward the portion of the glide /r/. The lips are open and neutral. The retroflex /ər/ of bird /'bərd/ is tense, stressed, and usually "long." On the other hand, the /ər/ of mother is lax and unstressed.

Carrel and Tiffany offer this opinion:
The [ɑr] diphthong features an off-glide from the relatively low back [ɑ] to the central-vowel position for [ɝ] or [ɜ]. Among those who do not pronounce their r's, the glide is either toward [ɜ] or virtually absent. In the latter case the monothong [ɑ is increased in length and the vowel distinguished from the [ɑ] of father in this way. The symbol for the long monothong [ɑ]. (Carrell and Tiffany, Phonetics, McGraw-Hill, 1960, p. 159)

[ɑ] is a low, back vowel. It occurs at the beginning and middle of words, and is spelled a as in arm, calm, farm. (Charles Kenneth Thomas, Phonetics of American English, The Ronald Press, 1958, p. 90)

Kantner and West recommend use of [r] for broad versus narrow transcriptions:
" ... In accordance with general practice among American phoneticians, [r] is used here to represent in broad transcriptions any of our American consonantal or glide r's. . . " (Kantner and West, p. 293)
"In broad transcription, if any one symbol is to be used to represent all the r sounds (except the vowel forms) it should be [r]" (Kantner and West, 1960, p. 173)

Prator believes:
The ɑ in the short position followed by r usually has the sound [a]: arm [arm]. (Prator, Manual of English Pronunciation, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1957, p. 113)

Bronstein records the long sound of a in yard:
As [ɑ] is the lowest of the back vowels ... the sound is ... long in such words as yard ... (Arthur J. Bronstein, The Pronunciation of American English, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1960, p.

On the other hand, Kantner & West offer this opinion:
The [r] sound is seldom heard as a glide. . . In the word are [ar]; ... the [r] is the acoustic effort of moving to the [ɝ] position. (Kantner & West, Phonetics, Harper & Brothers, 1941, p. 119)

Carrel and Tiffany cite a list of "words nearly always pronounced with [ɑr], rather than [ɔr]!" including are, farm, large.
They also cite "words which may be pronounced with [ɑr] or [ɔr]," including:
/'for-ə-st, 'fär/

*Some of these alternate pronunciations are recorded in Webster's New Secondary School Dictionary (1959).

Wijk cites three pronunciations of the combination ar:
1. /är/ as in car /'kär/, garden /'gärd-n/
2. /ear/ as in care /'keər/, vary /'veər-ē/
Note: In this category of pronunciations, he also lists parent /'par-ənt,'per-/ /per'ənt/, or /'par-ənt/.
3. /ar/ as in baron /'bar-ən/, /bar'-ən/, marry /'mar-ē/, /mar'-ē/
"Whenever the pronunciation of the combination ar deviates from the general rules concerning the distribution of the three pronunciations, the spelling will have to be changed in Regularized Inglish. This is only the case in a few words. In accordance with the principle stated the following changes in the present spelling are suggested:
1. For "are," write ar." (Wijk, Regularized English, 1959, pp. 160-161)

Ripman and Archer emphasize alternate pronunciations of ar:
"The combination of vowel or diphthong with r, not followed by a vowel, is variously pronounced by English speakers, and this variation has to be taken into account!' (Ripman & Archer, New Spelling, 1948, p. 44)

T.O. and Dictionary Respellings of /ar/.

/ər, är/
/är or ər/

Note 1: /ər/ in unstressed position, e.g., function word are as /ər/
Note 2: Some pronunciations of or in forest /'for-əst/, sorrow /'sar-o/ or /sor'-o/, foreign /'for-ən/, moral /'mor-əl/ or /mor'-əl/, torrid /'tor-əd/ or /tor'-id/. (See Carrel and Tiffany, p. 132)

The spelling ar in bar and farm is a phonogram representing /ä/ plus r; ar in the function word are represents /ər/ in the unstressed position (e.g., collar) and /ä/ plus r in the stressed position. In the teaching of reading, ar is a phonogram, e.g., far, farmer.

The phonogram ar /är/ is used at the beginning (e.g., arm), the middle (e.g., farm), and at the end (e.g., bar) of words.

Reform Spellings.

The following is a list of words comparing W.E.S. and i.t.a. spellings with T.O. (traditional orthography) and dictionary (Webster's New Elementary Dictionary, 1970) respellings:
/ər, är/
not available

A casual inspection of Wijk's Regularized English reveals one spelling of /ar/:

Phonic Rules.

Rules listed in books on the teaching of phonics provide little, if any, real help:
"A vowel followed by r has neither the long nor short sound - the vowel is modified by r." (Heilman, Phonics in Proper Perspective, Charles E. Merrill Pub. Co, 1964, p. 9)

Examples car, fir, fur, her, for, part, bird, hurt, perch, corn, etc.
"A vowel (or vowels) followed by the letter r results in a blended sound with neither the short nor the long sound of this vowel." (Heilman, p. 68)

"Vowel-r combinations - the vowel letter has its sound modified or controlled by the r, e.g., car, learn, fern, bird, word, far, fur." (Scott & Thompson, Phonics, Webster Pub. Co., 1962, p. 348)

Fry's discussion of /ar/ is limited to the paragraph below:
"When an A or an O is followed by an R, the situation is different. OR is rather uncomplicated in that it usually makes the sound heard in "for." But AR is a bit more complex in that it makes two different sounds as heard in the words "arm" and "vary." Both of these A sounds are a little difficult to teach because they are relatively infrequent. Some dictionaries mark the first with an umlaut or double dot over the /ä/ as in "arm," and a tilde over the /˜/ as in "vary." One help is that these A's usually precede an R; however, the second sound is also sometimes spelled AIR as in "fair." (Edward Fry, Elementary Reading Instruction, McGraw-Hill, 1977, p. 29)

In his pamphlet on phonics, W. S. Gray, an eminent scholar, fell into the same trap as tyro authors. Here is his rule:
"Consonant controllers: If the only vowel is followed by r, the sound of the vowel is usually governed by the r, proceed as follows:
1. We know that the vowels a and i are neither long nor short when they are followed by the letter r. Write the words bird, first, third, car, cart, far, park, start and have the words pronounced. Call attention to the fact that each of the words has a vowel letter in the middle of it but that the letter does not have the short sound. Lead the pupils to conclude that the vowels are not short because they are followed by r.
2. (Irrelevant to är /ar/)
3. Write the words had and hard on the blackboard. Discuss why the vowel in the word is short. Bring out the fact that the word has only one vowel letter and that it is in the middle of the word. Ask pupils to tell why the vowel in the word hard is not short. . ." (Gray, Developing Word Attack Skills, Grades 1-3, Scott, Foresman, 1947, p. 32)

Hay and Wingo made a tangential and somewhat obscure approach to "teaching" the phonic skills relative to /är/:
"In this activity each of the sounds of the murmuring diphthongs or, as in for, and ar, as in farm (is taught). A test is given on this page for or and ar. (Hay, Wingo, Reading with Phonics, Teachers' Edit. J.B. Lippincott Co, 1948, p. 80)

On page 80, 16 or words (e.g., for, fork) and 16 ar words (e.g., far, farm) were presented in isolation, followed by 20 "scrambled" words in a test.
On page 82: "On this page appears a phonetic story containing ar words." For example:
"Betty, have you seen my little red cart?"

"Yes, Bobby. It is in the barn or the yard," said Betty.

For the words cart, barn, yard, the first three letters were printed in red; the rest in black. This did have the advantage of calling attention to the phonograms car (cart), bar (barn), and yar (yard) in the whole word!

In a very brief presentation of ar, Williams recommended the consonant-"substitution" technique plus use of both initial and final blends:
"Have the children hear and show the like elements in key words such as cart, bark, and farm. Build on either side of the phonogram, change initial or final consonants to make new words. From farm get farmer, far, and arm. Change arm to harm, harm to hard. From cart get cars, car, carpet. Change car to bar, and in turn get jar, tar, star, start, art, part, and party. Children will enjoy the exercise and gain alertness in recognizing and blending parts in pronouncing." (Williams, How to Teach Phonics, Hall & McCreary, 1941, p. 33)

In her Colorado phonics program, Nettie S. Freed makes no mention of the ifr /ar/ situation. (Freed, The Program in Word Analysis)

In Conclusion.

Graphic r represents both consonant and vowel phonemes and, therefore, is a maverick for both phonemicists and orthographers. Hence, it provides frustration par excellence for educators concerned with phonics - the relationships between graphemes (spellings) and phonemes (sounds). Perhaps this and succeeding reports on graphic r will have served one primary purpose: to spotlight traps and, at the same time, to offer a rationale for regularizing spellings for beginners in reading.


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