bella_italiaDozens of police were called to London’s Leicester Square on Wednesday when a woman was taken hostage in a branch of the Bella Italia restaurant chain. The incident ended without violence, but not without letting us hear many journalists giving the restaurant its usual pronunciation in England, Bellaritalia. For example you can hear London Live’s correspondent saying it at 0:25 and 0:56:

For most speakers in England (and Wales, Australia and New Zealand), Bella is a perfect rhyme with words like cellar and dweller. Similarly, tuna is pronounced exactly like tuner, panda exactly like pander, rota like rotor, cheetah like cheater, schema like schemer, etc. These words all end in a colourless ‘schwa’ vowel, ə. Those written with final -r are far more common than those written with final -a, many of which are foreign words and names.

Native speakers of all languages are only taught to read and write after they’ve acquired the spoken language. Native speakers in England know how to pronounce words like rota and rotor – ie identically – but they may be unsure of the respective spellings. So it’s not hard to find mis-spellings, like this chapter which begins ‘The helicopter rota blades thrash the air…’

Now when one of these words is followed by a vowel, r may appear as a link to it, eg cellar‿insulation, dweller‿in the dark. The r is particularly likely to be used when the words are a common combination, like for‿example or better‿off. This linking r was long ago generalized from the more plentiful and frequent -r words to the -a words. Which is why we also often get BellarItalia. And PizzarExpress:

And the Obamaradministration:

And BAFTArAwards, ChristinarAguilera, PatriciarAshby, RitarOra. And, at 0:20, SkodarOktavia:

The unwritten linking r is used not only by voice artists and newsreaders but also by those who are too posh to read TV news. Here’s Prince Charles saying cheetahrand snow leopards:

So, if you really want to sound English, you should at least consider doing the same.

My long blog post on linking r is here.

5 replies
  1. Mercedes
    Mercedes says:

    Native speakers still do this even when they live abroad and incorporate a non-native word into their vocabulary.

    This is what happened with dear Mr Wilson, a former school teacher of my son at one of the British Schools in Spain, when he’d say this to the kids early in the morning, just as they went into the class-room, ‘Please put the ‘mochila(r)’ over there’.

    Of course, there is no ‘r’ in the orthographic form of the Spanish word ‘mochila’, which is simply ‘m o ch i l a’ and means ‘rugsack’, but Mr Wilson’s Spanish was poorish and hadn’t noticed this trace of his English pronunciation 😉

  2. William
    William says:

    Do people also insert the r if there’s an r in the previous syllable as well, for example in Laura(r)Ashley? Somehow, this feels less natural to me.

    • Geoff Lindsey
      Geoff Lindsey says:

      You’re right, it’s less likely, but possible. I quite often hear something like Lau[ɹː]Ashley. Note that /rər/ is rare in English words (very rare within morphemes) and tends to be pronounced [ɹ] or [ɹː], eg lib[ɹ]y, temp[ɹ]y, te[ɹː]ist, itine[ɹː]y.

      Then there’s the option of keeping vowels apart with a glottal stop, or ‘hard attack’. This is on the rise in SSB (perhaps under American influence), and seems to me more common in female speech. In the first few seconds of this video we have ‘For[ʔ]over a century, the Long Eaton[ʔ]area[ʔ]of[ʔ]England has been the heart of the British furniture[ʔ]industry.’


  3. William
    William says:

    Thanks very much. Now that you mention it, the pronunciations with [ɹ] or [ɹː] do indeed sound more familiar.

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