Is the 'r' that is dropped from infinitives a sign of past movement towards non-rhoticity (drop of all post-vocalic'r'), or is it just one of many consonants that were dropped to be added back in as needed with the liaison?

For example, 'premier fils' is pronounced /pʁə mje fis] but 'premier enfant' is /pʁə mjɛ ʁɑ̃ fɑ̃/.

I ask because, in English, many times when an accent becomes non-rhotic (drops the 'r') like in the standard British English, a shadow of the 'r' remains, to be pronounced fully when a following syllable starts with a vowel. But this is exactly the situation with liaison, just with many more allowed consonants in French.

Is there any to analyze this loss of 'r' as non-rhoticity like in English, or is it considered as just another instance of the usual French liaison?

As a side question, are there modern accents of French (or past ones) that drop more 'r's post vocalically, like even in '-ir' infinitives or before other consonants (like 'course')?

  • 3
    As a side answer to the side question, the /r/ of -ir verbs was dropped and restored later by analogy, yes, as was that of the -eur agentive suffix and of the "sor" préposition, which got mixed up with "sus" to give the modern "sur". All French dialects have /ir/ for the -ir suffix, but of the other Gallo-Romance languages, most have -/i/ without a restored /r/, see this map: lig-tdcge.imag.fr/cartodialect3/visualiseur?nomCarte=0418 Feb 12, 2019 at 23:58

1 Answer 1

  1. The r in the endings of verbs comes from the latin, very often : aimer/amare, laisser/laxare, passer/passare. The exact cause of this remaining r that is not pronounced, which I wouldn't consider as a trend towards non rhoticity but as a local phenomenon of non rhoticity is to be found in the evolution of the pronunciation independently of a rule of liaison. This exact cause I, personally, do not know. It is both a local phenomenon of non rhoticity and just another instance of the usual French liaison, although there is nothing very usual about liaisons: sometimes they should be effected, sometimes they are not allowed. The liaison is effected because the r is found at the end of the word ; I suppose the principle that brought that practice about is a little bit as what you call hypercorrection in English phonetics : numerous cases exist where two vowel sounds are juxtaposed and no intrusive r is introduced in French, to the contrary of the modern English trend ("vanilla ice" pronounced as "vanilla rice"); for instance you effect that liaison normally in "la première arrivée" because the r is pronounced; you also do in "le premier arpent" although the r is not pronounced in "premier".

    • été évanouie
    • avait éternué (the t is not pronounced)
    • passé à peine révolu

We can't talk of a trend towards non rhoticity because r is consistently pronounced before consonants (marteau, partie, carte, perte, Orly, pèrle…) and in the endings (mère, père, terre, arrière, faire, finir…). The r's not pronounced in the endings occur in great number in the case of the ending "er", specially in the verbs in the first group, and in many nouns (fumier, poirier, amandier, roncier, foncier, atelier…).

Interesting, no liaisons (at least for those): fumier étendu, poirier élagué, amandier atrophié, roncier épais, atelier en ville,

  1. In fact, in singing this r in the verbs from the first group (ending in "er") is sometimes pronounced without there being any need for a liaison, that is before a consonnant. This is true for the songs of a more traditional sort and in the past century; it's probably not found in modern singing of a few decades past. There does not exist an accent in which this r should be pronounced consistently; the pronunciation of ending "er" is uniformally the same as that of é in the whole of France.
  • Excellent answer. Are there any non-standard dialects (or past pronunciations) where the 'r' in marteau, carte, ..., mère, ... etc. is dropped?
    – Mitch
    Feb 13, 2019 at 1:03
  • 1
    @Mitch I think we'd have to go back for that to the times right after the French revolution, when the so called Incroyables et Merveilleuses would replace all r's with soft English r's ( fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incroyables_et_Merveilleuses). Read the section "Incroyables" for that.
    – LPH
    Feb 13, 2019 at 1:16

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