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I read the following in a textbook:

In the German-speaking world of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, there are two distinct ways of pronouncing r. One way is the rolled r as is heard in Italian or Russian. The other is the so-called guttural r that is a sound made near the back of the tongue. In German the guttural sound is used when the r is located at the beginning of a word. For example, rot means red and is pronounced rote, with a guttural sound distinctly similar to a French r. When this letter is at the end of a syllable or word, particularly in the combination er, it sounds more like uh and does not resemble an r. It is similar to a final r in British English. For example, Zucker means sugar and is pronounced tsoo-kuh.

So when exactly do I use the rolled r sound to pronounce a word?

  • Isn´t it already answered in your text? – deviantfan Jun 27 '15 at 0:37
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    But is it every other time other than the end or the beginning is what I am asking. It doesn't explicitly state when it is used. It begins by stating that there are two distinct ways, but it seems that they are stating three. So what are the three (or more) situations for pronouncing the r in these three different ways? – abroad-and-away Jun 27 '15 at 1:09
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    Yes, the text isn't too clearly organized. It mixes two very different variations: One, there is a difference between vocalic and consonantic realization of /r/ in German, depending on the position in the word; two, there is individual variation regarding how the consonantic /r/ is realized, with some people using the "rolled r" and other people using one of the other three sounds that can stand for consonantic /r/. – chirlu Jun 27 '15 at 3:28
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    And note that some simply can't produce the "rolled 'r'" despite multiple attempts - me included and I'm a native speaker with a mother that has no problems whatsoever. – Stephie Jun 27 '15 at 5:00
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    related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/1155/… – Takkat Jun 27 '15 at 5:19
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I think that passage from your textbook is neither very clear nor very complete. In German the letter r is usually pronounced with a guttural sound when it is

  • at the beginning of a word: Raum
  • immediately after a consonant: frisch
  • at the beginning of a syllable: abräumen

In all other cases, the r is pronounced more like ah or a schwa: warten, Finger, nur, ...

So, when is it pronounced as a rolled r? First of all, in normal speech only the guttural r can be replaced by a rolled r. And then it is a regional phenomenon or a matter of personal preference. It does not depend on the specific position of r in a word. Even without consulting any statistics, I dare to say that (averaging over all regions where German is spoken) the guttural r is much more common than the rolled r.

Note that in marked usage the guttural as well as the rolled pronunciation of r can appear independently of the position of the letter. Here two (admittedly silly) examples:

  • if you're talking to your dog and he refuses to listen ("warrrte ...")
  • if you're the singer of the band Rammstein
  • Or you’re Bavarian — my colleagues always say that I badly roll my r (guttural, btw) no matter where in the word it is ;) – Jan Jun 27 '15 at 13:44

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