I guess one can qualify any statement ever made as an 'opinion', but we can hopefully agree that kind of relativism is self-defeating.
Originally Posted by 5jj
I think the main problem here was a certain degree of terminological confusion here. I think most people here assumed, being native English speakers and also having been able to follow the now defunct link to the (indeed very "camp horror") Vincent Price performance, that the sound enthink was referring to was exclusively the alveolar trill [r] (or rolled R).
I, being a native Spanish speaker and focussing on his description of the sound as being used in theatres, assumed enthink was talking about both the alveolar trill [r] and the alveolar tap [ɾ], since to me they are variations of the same letter (soft and hard R), the trill being an emphasis or extension of the single tap, and really being comprised just of several quick consecutive taps.
In England nowadays, when people say someone is "rolling their Rs", they are focussing on the trill, which when overused is of course a pretty obvious, comical, and rather silly affectation, unless one is very Scottish. When I replied to this, I mainly focussed on the alveolar tap, which used to be a standard part of RP and has died out in the way I described. I have definitely heard people describing as the way the likes of Patrick Stewart or Stephen Fry speak as rolling their Rs, but I can't be sure if they meant the trill only or the single taps as well.
I apologise for my dismissive tone since when considering enthink's question in that light then of course many of the theories I dismissed are quite correct. However I don't think any decent Shakespearean actors overuse the trill; they really are just speaking upper-class/mildly archaic RP, which is the way I understood the question myself. Without enthink's output we can't know for sure whether (s)he meant both sounds or not, but since (s)he mentions the theatre RP accent (which mostly uses the tap and very rarely the trill) I will expand a bit on what I meant.
Most British people know or at least have heard the slightly stuffy "posh" accent I described, most often heard in older aristocrats, but for the rest of you guys, they often use alveolar taps for linking Rs as in for a and tether in, after a short stressed vowel in words such as oracle, empirical or verity, but also after dorsal occlusive consonants, as in cringe, crevice or angry.
Sometimes, when emphasising words with a double R, as in carriage or marriage, or in starting Rs as in ravish or wrong, they often permit themselves a soft, dark trill. Nothing as obvious as a merry Scotsman or as silly as the Vincent Price performance (who I suspect was kind of going for a mild Transilvanian accent, since he normally used a transatlantic accent) – but still definitely there.
I posted two videos in my previous post. One can dismiss the Hollywood wizard as a genre affectation (Ian McKellen often uses an unusual sort of soft "french J" when pronouncing /r/s in real life, almost like [ʒ]). However, The Woolf recording is full of alveolar taps which are slightly, very softly trilled, and a few clear trills (listen to the word Royal at the 4:50 mark, or roving at 5:08) as typical for an old U-RP accent.
If one focusses on the tap as that "Spanish or Italian sound" then the link I posted above is pretty concise about it:
-If anyone really wants to waste their time on the evolution of the R sound (and I suspect most people won't), they can read the 250 page doctoral thesis of a linguistics PhD of the University of Bergen. It only very tangentially comments on the evolution of this particular phoneme but I will quote the following paragraph:
Loss of tapped /r/. A further change from this period was the loss of the alveolar tap [ɾ] as a usual realization of /r/ between vowels, as in very sorry, better off. It has been replaced by the ordinary approximant [ɹ].
The following changes are almost complete, in the sense that the “new” pronunciations are now typical of the large majority of Mainstream RP speakers (the old pronunciations are heard with many U-RP speakers):
[...] /r/ is realised as a post-alveolar approximant in all positions, whereas formerly a tapped[ɹ] was usual in intervocalic positions.
The rest of the thesis can be downloaded on the foliowing website:
In any case, thank you for merging the threads; it makes much more sense that way.