In a video that snailboat pointed out in a comment on my question about geminated /r/, at least one speaker of Japanese sounds to me like they trill both the /r/s in タリアテッレ.

It's my understanding that, most of the time, /r/ in Japanese is a flap that freely varies between central and lateral (cf. the answer to R sound vs L sound). For /r/ to transform into a trill, then, is really quite surprising.

In what contexts (social, dialectal, grammatical, whatever) does /r/ become a trill?

I know that /r/ manifests as a trill (巻き舌) in yakuza speech (cf. What are the stereotypical characteristics of yakuza speech?); where else do we find trilled /r/?

(Note: I may just be mishearing the speaker in the Youtube video linked above; if so, just ignore that part. Either way, my question about trilled /r/ in Japanese remains.)

  • The youtube video, does that sounds like a trill to you? To me, it sounds like a geminated postalveolar lateral or something like that, but definitely not a trill.
    – dainichi
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 12:24
  • @dainichi My knowledge of phonetics is really very limited. If you say it's a geminated postalveolar lateral, I'm willing to believe you. Would you agree, though, that the sound (whatever it is) seems to be outside the normal range of variation of /r/? (Also, if you don't mind, how would you characterize the /r/s of the guy in the white suit at 16:44 in this video?)
    – senshin
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


To my ear, the native Japanese speaker in the video sounds like saying /tariatterure/ with the typical Japanese gemination occurring on /t/ and only on this consonant. So, I focus on when trilled /r/ might typically appear in Japanese, and post my impression on the /r/ in the video in question to here, which OP suggested.

If you're referring to the kind of allophone on /r/ that typically appears in yakuza speech, as you said yourself, it is called 巻き舌 (まきじた) in Japanese. Phonetically speaking, it's the alveolar trill.

This is not one of the allophones the average native Japanese speaker would use when speaking in standard Japanese in normal context. As the Japanese Wikipedia article on the alveolar trill says, this allophone is most typically associated with the dialects(?) called べらんめえ調 spoken by 江戸っ子 (えどっこ) and 浜言葉 typically stereotyped as fishermen's speech, and a certain aggressive, hostile, and rough register in spoken language (such as typical yakuza speech).

I'm not sure if it's linguistically true that this sound is regularly used as a major variant of phoneme /r/ in any of the alleged dialects/register. But as a native Japanese speaker, I do understand these "stereotypes." In fact, as is exemplified in the other video you linked to in the comment, the stereotypes are so widespread that this trilled /r/ (or its connotations to a rough, aggressive or rude manner) can be effectively exploited in fiction. You may also use it to sound humorous just like any other stereotypical speech. So, at least it's "widespread" in a sense and is definitely part of the Japanese language. But as far as I know, it does not appear as a regularly used (free) allophone in any of the major dialects I know or speak. Then again, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if someone uses it very often in a regular manner as part of their natural idiolect, either.

In any case, the examples I can be sure about are the three I mentioned above, i.e., べらんめえ調, 浜言葉, and yakuza speech, all of which sound "rough." Note that while べらんめえ調 is informally said to be the same as 江戸言葉, which is one of the regional dialects in Tokyo, the Wikipedia article of this dialect doesn't mention trilled /r/. So, it's possible that 江戸言葉 as the real regional dialect (which is becoming quite obsolete nowadays by the way) doesn't have this allophone, so perhaps it's just a stereotype thing.

  • Might I suggest that you move some of your answer to this question? A lot of what you have said pertains to the question of geminating /r/ in Japanese, which is more what that question is about and less what this question is about.
    – senshin
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 17:57
  • Regarding the section after "Edit:" - if I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that in 標準語, /r/ is never trilled. That's good to know, but it's also the case (as you note) that trilled /r/ appears in at least one sociolect (yakuza speech). As such, it doesn't seem too much of a stretch prima facie to suspect that there may be other dialects/contexts in which it manifests. If I were to ask the question of /d/ vs. /ð/, a good answer would be along the lines of "that occurs in AAVE", and I'm looking for answers along the same line here.
    – senshin
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 18:05

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