R - Encyclopedia

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'R, the twentieth letter in the Phoenician alphabet, the nineteenth in the numerical Greek, the seventeenth in the ordinary Greek and the Latin and (owing to the addition of J) the eighteenth in the English. Its earliest form in the Phoenician alphabet when written from right to left was A, thus resembling the symbol for D with one side of the triangle prolonged. In Aramaic and other Semitic scripts which were modified by opening the heads of the letters, the symbol in time became very much changed. Greek, however, maintained the original form with slight variations from place to place. Not infrequently in the Greek alphabets of Asia Minor and occasionally also in the West, R was written as p, thus introducing a confusion with D (q.v.). Elsewhere a short tail was added, as occasionally in the island of Melos, in Attica and in western Greece, but nowhere does this -seem to have beeh universal. The earliest Latin forms are exactly like the Greek, Thus in_ the very early inscriptions found in the Forum in 1899 R appears as (from right to Ieft), and (from left to right). Later the forms and come in; sometimes the back is not quite connected in the middle to 'the upright, when the form R is produced. The name of the Semitic symbol is Resh; why it was called by the Greeks Rho (pco) is not clear. The h which accompanies r in the transliteration of Greek p, indicates that it was breathed, not voiced, in pronunciation. No consonant varies more in pronunciation than r. According to Brockelmann, the original Semitic r was probably a trilled r, i.e. an r produced by allowing the tip of the tongue to vibrate behind the teeth while the upper surface of the tongue is pressed against the sockets of the teeth. The ordinary English r is also produced against the sockets of the teeth, but without trilling; another r, also untrilled, which is found in various parts of the south of England, is produced by turning up the tip of the tongue behind the sockets of the teeth till the tongue acquires something of a spoon shape. This, which is also common in the languages of modern India, is called the cerebral or cacuminal r, the former term, which has no meaning in this connexion, being only a bad translation of a Sanscrit term. The common German r is produced by vibrations of the uvula at the end of the soft palate, and hence is called the uvular r. There are also many other varieties of this sound. In many languages r is able to form syllables by itself, in the same way that 1, 'm, n may do, as in the English brittle (britl), written (ritn). In Europe r with this value is most conspicuous in Slavonic languages like Bohemian (Czech) and Croatian; in English r in this function is replaced by a genuine vowel in words like mother (mooo). This syllabic r is first recorded for Sanscrit, where it is common, but is replaced in the languages descended from Sanscrit by r and a vowel or by a vowel only, according to the position in which it occurs. Most philologists are of opinion that syllabic r existed also in the mother-tongue of the Indo-European languages. (P. G1.)

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