A Random Post about Trilling

I’m saturating my brain and ears with Spanish in an effort to get myself to a conversational level. This is not an unreasonable plan, as I took four years of Spanish in high school and have a very (very) basic understanding of it. I can conjugate my verbs and know how to pronounce most of the words I see. However, my vocabulary is limited and my conjugation is slow. So, when I’m listening to my podcasts, and the speaker provides a Spanish sentence, I can feel the gears in my head grinding as I translate each word, then determine the ending of the verb: (tiene…is that you have or he/she/it has?) (it’s he/she/it has)(…okay, so tiene la llave is he/she/it has the key…) and so forth (can’t you see the gears grinding?) Now, whether I’ll ever get to normal speaking speed remains to be seen, but I’ll be practicing with madre, and I’ll be watching some telenovelas in hopes of improving my listening comprehension.

What really throws my pronunciation for a loop is my inability to trill my r’s. I’ll think I’m making progress, then I get to a word that I simply cannot say with the proper trilling . It makes me a little crazy. This came up in my French podcast lessons as well. For example, the phrase I’m feeling good = je suis en forme. The teacher on the podcast says the word “forme” with a beautiful trill of the r. He warns that English speakers may have trouble trilling the “r” in “forme” because it’s so subtle. When the student who is working with him trills it with no problem (she’s learning French along with the listeners), he explains it is because the two of them are Scottish, and Scottish speakers trill their r’s.

A few weeks ago, I received my Word of the Day email, and it highlighted the word(s) “dog’s letter.” Dog’s letter is another way to say the letter R. The email gave this explanation for the term: From Latin littera canina, literally dog’s letter. In Latin the sound of the letter R was trilled. Think Grrr! of a snarling dog. A good example of a trilling R is none other than the Spanish word for a dog: perro. I took only a year of Latin and I’m sure I couldn’t trill my r’s then either.

The inspiration for this trilling post came from listening to Pound read Sestina: Altaforte (link on the right). He’s rolling his English r’s very easily (and dramatically). I wonder why there isn’t more r trilling in American English? At least no one I know trills their r’s in casual conversation.


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