1,000 Word Challenge #5 – Return, Burn, Hurt, Burst, Further

British Accent Training: ‘Ur’ Combination

Let’s look at the ‘ur’ letter combination. This comes up in the words above, and it’s a nasty combination to get into your head. That’s because it’s not so much what you say, but what you don’t say. The ‘r’ sounds, in particular, are tricky. But we’ll get to those in a bit.

For now, let’s talk about the thing you do say – the ‘uhh’ sound. This is a long vowel, heard in words such as ‘heard’, ‘third’, ‘study’, and ‘unearned’. It’s pretty close to a very neutral ‘schwa’ sound, as heard in ‘the’ and ‘about’, except that everything’s a touch longer. You extend the lips a touch, and drop the jaw a little bit.

British Accent Training: Non-Rhotic Accents

But the really crucial thing comes in at the ‘r’ sound. In the British accent, you don’t give voice to some of the ‘r’ sounds. And, with the exception of the first ‘r’ in ‘return’, you don’t say any of the ‘r’ sounds in these words. So ‘return’ becomes ‘retuhhn’, ‘burn’ becomes ‘buhhn’, ‘hurt’ becomes ‘huhht’, and ‘further’ becomes ‘fuhh-thuh’. Crazy, right?

So, in the British accent you say some ‘r’ sounds, and don’t say others. What’s the rule here? Well, there’s actually a simple game being played. If the ‘r’ sound is being made before a vowel, you say it. In words like ‘rock’, ‘right’, ‘red’, ‘rule’, you say the ‘r’.

But if the ‘r’ sound isn’t put before a vowel sound, it doesn’t get voiced. So in Burn, the ‘r’ goes onto a ‘n’. In Hurt, it goes onto a ‘T’. In ‘Burst’, it goes onto a ‘st’ sound. And none of them get voiced.

‘Further’ is even more interesting, since it has two ‘r’ sounds in there. The first goes onto a ‘th’ sound, so doesn’t get voiced. And the last goes out into nothingness, so doesn’t get voiced either! Incredible!

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