The Acoustics of Borrowed /ɚ/ in Quebec French


  • Massimo Lipari McGill University, CA


The English rhotic vowel /ɚ/ (as in soccer, /sɑkɚ/), characterized by a low third formant, is a cross-linguistically rare sound. Quebec French lacks such a phoneme, which poses a problem when borrowing words from English which contain it. Languages are known to employ a wide array of strategies in such cases, with varying degrees of acoustic fidelity to the original form. Quebec French is said to use three of these to adapt English /ɚ/: ignoring the pronunciation from the donor language and instead deducing one from the orthography (e.g., [sɔkɛʁ]), substituting the (phonetically or phonologically) closest native phoneme (usually rendered as [sɔkœʁ]), and importing the missing sound wholesale (i.e., [sɔkɚ]) (cf. Côté 2021). However, the acoustics of this loanword vowel have not yet been systematically studied. This paper constitutes a pilot study aimed at addressing this gap. The data consist of 317 tokens of the word Orford (a place name of English origin) across 26 speakers, taken from a corpus of parliamentary speech (an expanded version of Milne’s 2014 AssNat corpus). Static and dynamic formant measures for the vowel of interest are reported. In addition, overlap in F1 × F2 × F3 distributions with the acoustically similar native phonemes /ø, œ/ is calculated for each speaker using Pillai scores (cf. Hay et al. 2006, Nycz & Hall-Lew 2014). Preliminary results evidence a large measure of intra- and inter-speaker variability, particularly in terms of F3 (indicating variable success in replicating the rhoticity of the English phoneme). For most speakers, the loanword vowel remains distinct from either of the acoustically comparable native phonemes—even amongst those who exhibit similar F3 values as for /ø/ or /œ/—albeit with greater similarity to /ø/ than to /œ/. These findings paint a more complicated portrait of the variability in adaptation of /ɚ/ than earlier descriptions.

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How to Cite

Lipari M. The Acoustics of Borrowed /ɚ/ in Quebec French. Canadian Acoustics [Internet]. 2023 Oct. 9 [cited 2024 Jun. 21];51(3):210-1. Available from:



Proceedings of the Acoustics Week in Canada