Reverse rhotacism


One meaning of the word rhotacism is the phonological process which changes a consonant into a r-sound in certain environments. The consonant affected is usually alveolar and most frequently s or z. The particular realisation of r depends, I suppose, on which language is involved

What got me thinking of this process is my recent efforts to learn some Cornish. The Middle Cornish for “I am” is yth esof vy (ɪθ ˈezə vɪ is the pronunciation I have heard for this). A variation is yth esoma (ɪθ ˈezəmə, I assume, though I have never heard it). In Late Cornish the phrase is th’eroma or th’erof vy. This is a good example of rhotacism.

Then it struck me that in certain parts of the English-speaking world there is a process of reverse rhotacism, whereby r → z. Barry sometimes gets called Baz or Bazza, doesn’t he? And Jeremy, if he is unlucky, may be called Jez or Jezza. I tried to think of more examples, but all I could come up with was soz, which I have occasionally heard for the word sorry. Does Gary ever get called Gaz or Gazza?

It also occurred to me that rhotacism does not appear in SID. I must do something about that, and about lambdacism, but that is a matter for another post.

16 thoughts on “Reverse rhotacism

  1. I’ve just found this on reddit:

    “a kid from my school who was a football maniac was nicknamed Gazza and his name was Gary”

  2. “Tomorrow” -> “Tomoz” (from a fish-keeping forum : “will check water again tomoz”, “Will have another try tomoz”, will have look tomoz””, …).

  3. In old fashioned terminology, speech pathologists often termed problems with /r/ ‘rhotacism’, and problems with /s/ ‘sigmatism’

  4. In Australia, /z/ is used a LOT to replace intervocalic /ɹ/ in people’s names when the preceding vowel is short. When the /ɹ/ is preceded by a long vowel or a diphthong, the name is reduced to one syllable ending with /z/. I’m Caroline (Cazza, or Caz), the woman who owns a favourite coffee shop is Cheryl (Shezza or Shez). Shez has three employees in the coffee shop: Terri (Tezza or Tez), Kiersten (Cares) and Mary (Mares). You tend NOT to hear this applied to children’s names. No one called me Caz until I was in my late teens.

    “Tomoz” is used increasingly in Twitter – handy in terms of the 140 character limit.

  5. It went the other way in some of the old Germanic languages. Proto-Germanic *[z] > /r/ in Old English, hence hord “hoard” beside Gothic huzd “treasure”, and in Old Norse, hence dagr “day” beside Gothic dags.

    Latin was also subject to the same sort of sound change, hence generis < *genes-es, and Latin infinitives in -re, which are from an s-stem locative singular.

  6. r > s has also happened in French: Latin cathedra originally became chaire in Norman French (hence English chair) but is chaise in modern French from the francien dialect.

  7. I’ve just seen this entry and would like to add that my sister’s ex-husband Darren was commonly referred to as Daz.

    Lamdacism anybody? I have lots of examples courtesy my childhood friends.

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