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Analogy in the emergence of intrusive-r in English1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2013

Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AD,


This article presents a novel approach to the phenomenon of intrusive-r in English based on analogy. The main claim of the article is that intrusive-r in non-rhotic dialects of English is the result of the analogical extension of the r~zero alternation shown by words such as far, more and dear. While this idea has been around for a long time, this is the first study that explores this type of analysis in detail. Specifically, I provide an overview of the developments that led to the emergence of intrusive-r and show that they are fully compatible with an analogical approach. This includes the analysis of frequency data taken from an eighteenth-century corpus of English compiled specifically for the purposes of this article and the discussion of a related development, namely intrusive-l. The article also presents a review of the evidence about the variability of intrusive-r, which serves as the basis of an evaluation of previous approaches. Once the notion of analogy is made formally explicit, the analogical approach becomes capable of providing a unified account of the historical development and the variability of intrusive-r. This is demonstrated through a computer simulation of the emergence of the phenomenon based on the eighteenth-century corpus mentioned above. The results of the simulation confirm the predictions of the analogical approach.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013

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I would like to thank Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero, Patrick Honeybone, László Kálmán, Roger Lass, April McMahon, Ádám Nádasdy, Péter Rácz, Péter Rebrus, Miklós Törkenczy and two anonymous reviewers, who have all contributed to this article significantly in some way or another. All remaining errors (grammatical, stylistic and conceptual) are mine.


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