The nature of the change: Language-internal and external aspects of derhotacization in young urban Scottish English (YUScE)

  • Estelle Le Duc Københavns Universitet


Scottish English is generally referred to as a rhotic variety of English, i.e. one in which /r/ is
articulated both prevocalically as in red and merry, as well as postvocalically as in far, farmer, and
similar. However, recent research in the field of sociophonetics (Lawson et al. 2014b, Celata &
Calamai, 2014, Schützler, 2015) suggests that a process of derhotacization, that is, a gradual loss
or lenition of postvocalic /r/, is taking place among young urban speakers of Scottish English. The
present article presents the results of an auditory study of reading tasks performed by 80 informants
from Glasgow and Edinburgh during the spring and summer 2016. By looking into the extent to
which the 80 speakers produced derhotacized realizations during the reading task, it is found that if
the process of derhotacization in YUScE could eventually result in full non-rhoticity, then the
process is clearly in its early stage: speakers of YUScE are still to a large extent rhotic, and even
for the few speakers who produce a considerable number of derhotacized realizations, the instances
in which these realizations are completely non-rhotic are rather few. The article, furthermore,
investigates the nature of derhotacization in YUScE with respect to two aspects: the languageexternal
and language-internal aspects of the change. In terms of the language-external aspects of
the change, derhotacization is examined in relation to the extra-linguistic variables of gender,
socio-economic status, and geographic affiliation. In terms of the language-internal aspects of the
change, derhotacization is examined in relation to a number of language-internal variables: the
vowel preceding /r/, the tautosyllabic consonant following /r/, the position of /r/ in a word, i.e.
whether /r/ is in word-final or pre-consonantal position in utterance-final words, and in relation to
prosodic stress, i.e. whether /r/ is found in accented or deaccented words. It is found that the nature
of derhotacization in YUScE is rather systematic in the sense that the change occurs according to
several underlying social factors, and happens more frequently among some speakers of YUScE
than others depending on gender, socio-economic status, and geographic affiliation, as well as
according to several underlying language-internal factors, by which the change occurs more
frequently in some phonetic and phonological contexts than in others. It is, furthermore, found that
the process of derhotacization in YUScE possibly follows a natural law of articulatory economy,
meaning that /r/ is first lost in phonetic and phonological contexts in which the reduction of articulatory effort is highest, and that rhoticity, at least in this stage of the process, is still retained
in contexts in which the reduction of articulatory effort is lowest.

Author Biography

Estelle Le Duc, Københavns Universitet
Has studied the Bachelor of Arts programme in English Studies in the Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies at UCPH since 2014.


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How to Cite
Le Duc, E. (2017). The nature of the change: Language-internal and external aspects of derhotacization in young urban Scottish English (YUScE). Journal of Language Works - Sprogvidenskabeligt Studentertidsskrift, 2(2), 66-86. Retrieved from