The elusive guttural ‘r’

I finally succeeded at voicing that infamous guttural ‘r’. It marks my greatest linguistic achievement in a while. You know the sound I speak of - the ‘r’ articulated entirely from the throat. It was the only phoneme precluding me from at least closely articulating the entire phonetic range of languages like German, French, Hebrew.

Had I successfully captured this sound while in Berlin, it would have made the German language development a lot more engaging, in contrast to the failed milestone it became. All my attempts of voicing the guttural ‘r’, until recently, ended in vain, at least without filling my throat with liquid - a slightly impractical solution. Otherwise, the attempts yielded nothing more than the equivalent Spanish ‘j’, Russian ‘х’, English ‘h’, or similar.

I refrained from resorting to the thrilled ‘r’ (Spanish/Russian) at all costs. It would have sufficed for the Bayern German dialect or the Canadian French, neither of which I have anything against. Yet this solution felt unsatisfying. I felt greater pleasure for the standard dialects, as well as the aesthetic preference for that beastly, provocative guttural ‘r’.

How did I arrive at this sound you might ask? By pure repetition and willingness, for one. And two, curiously, by eliminating the element of pressure in not being directly around those languages, or rather, by developing it purely for sport. At least for the moment.

Now, I’ve been listening to French podcasts for some time to expose myself to the phonetic range, as well as hear the guttural ‘r’ most often. Beyond that I’ve been verbosely repeating the content with aid of transcriptions. This practice I find effective for independent listening, reading, and pronunciation development, and highly encourage when not bound by time.

Presently, I’m in Brazil, free of the pressure to voice the guttural ‘r’ (or speak French), which makes the task particularly easy to pursue.

With regard specifically to the sound, I took an entirely independent approach, and found myself roaming the streets while endlessly uttering words like ‘prost’, ‘merci’, ‘reporteur’, ‘Roger Federer’, and the such. The practice is not for the socially self-concious, although I generally choose loud settings to avoid the cosmic encounter with a straitjacket.

I don’t know the precise moment, but eventually the sound arrived after perhaps 3 weeks of consciously holding the idea in mind. It’s not 100% naturally sounding. I can’t render it with a completely dry throat. However, it takes me but a few seconds of speaking for the throat to moisten, at which point the sound materializes. It sounds forced and slightly exaggerated, but this should smooth with time.

The guttural ‘r’ belongs to a class of those not terribly difficult, independently trainable components, which can have profound impact on more ambitious linguistic pursuit. See my recent post on the power of identifying rooted, independent components. This example fits the model extremely well.