R-controlled vowels in American English
American English pronunciation has four widely recognized r-controlled-vowels:
These sounds deserve special attention from any learner striving for American pronunciation. This is due to the fact that American English pronunciation is rhotic, meaning that the 'r sound' /r/ is pronounced during r-controlled vowels, even if the following sound is a consonant sound. This is in contrast to British Received Pronunciation.
The schwa+r /ɚ/ pronunciation is unique in that it includes no vowel sound (it sounds identical to an 'r sound' /r/ when spoken in isolation); however, it retains the vowel-like quality of being syllabic, forcing a syllable to occur. The three remaining r-controlled vowels are combinations of a vowel sound plus the 'r sound' /r/.
Complicating the pronunciation of r-controlled vowels is the fact that there are two options available for pronouncing the 'r' portion of each sound:
- the bunched method, in which the sides of the back of the tongue are raised
- the tip-up method, in which the tip of the tongue is raised and curled back behind the tooth ridge
Since either option will produce an acceptable and correct sound, non-native speakers should experiment with both options to discover which is personally easier.