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The employment of retroflex realisations in the production of the English phonemes [t], [d], and [r], by British Asian adolescents:

© Maya Zara

Research into the speech of British Asians in Blackburn has demonstrated that they employ more retroflex realisations of the English phonemes [t], [d], and [r]. The retroflex variants mark their identity as British Asian, and helped aid members of the public in correctly identifying them as so, on the basis of their voice alone. The crucial point is that even though British Asians may realise a phoneme with a 0 variant, i.e. the total absence of a retroflex, there is still a difference between their pronunciation, and that of British Whites.

Listen to the speech of two adolescents, extracted from the formal speech context (reading a passage):

[Listen to example] Speaker AA
[Listen to example] Speaker S

AA was accurately identified by all respondents of an Accent Judgement test, yet the speech played was her formal speech style.

The difference between AA and S' realisations of [t], [d], and [r], extended beyond the mere presence or absence of a retroflex:

  • S' realisation of [t] was aspirated, whereas AA's was non aspirated.
  • S' realisation of the English phoneme [r] was in fact an alveolar approximant [ɹ], whereas AA's was not. These differences were consistent between all British Asian and British White respondents, except a few who had gained this linguistic knowledge, through contact.

The sound clip below is extracted from a formal speech style, in the context of leaving a message for a teacher:

[Listen to example] Speaker Z

The English phoneme [t] is aspirated, which can be heard in her realisation of [t] in the words practical's and distinctions.

For more information and a detailed analysis of the factors which determine whether or not speakers have more, or less retroflex realisations of English phonemes, please see Maya's Undergraduate dissertation.