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In my world, there is a mammalian species from the Homo genus called "ogres" (their scientific name is Homo obesus) (they are still humans, just not Homo sapiens) (Homo obesus means "obese human").

In the most spoken language used by ogres, there are three rhotic sounds: the weak English "r" sound, the guttural "r" sound (as in French rédemption) (rédemption naturally means redemption), and the trilled "r" sound (the Russian "r").

In most real life human languages, there is only one rhotic sound.

The most common rhotic sound around the world's languages is the alveolar trill. This phoneme is used in Slavic languages (like Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian), in some Germanic languages (like Afrikaans, and Icelandic), Greek, and even some non--Indo-European languages (like Thai).

Many languages use the guttural rhotic sound as a speech impediment. The only languages I know that normally only use the guttural "r" are French (my first language), German, Yiddish, and (surprise) Hebrew.

The weak English "r" sound is rare among most human languages around the world... except in Aboriginal Australian languages where it is extremely common! That said, this phoneme is also found in Wu varieties of the Chinese language, including Shanghainese.

Also, the Japanese "r" sound is one of the world's rarest phonemes.

However, some languages have both a tapped "r" sound and a trilled "r" sound, or alternatively, both a guttural "r" sound, and an alveolar "r" sound: Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Hungarian, and Arabic.

So, I wonder why would a language have three rhotic phonemes.

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  • $\begingroup$ What is a rhotic sound, in your opinion? And what is a "guttural" r? For example, would you could a voiced phangeal fricative /ʕ/ or a voiced epiglottal trill /ʢ/ (e.g., Arabic ayin) as a rhotic sound? (And Italian absolutely has only one /r/ phoneme; it does distinguish between /r/ and /rr/, but [r] and [ɾ] are allophones of /r/ in free variation.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 5 at 1:07
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    $\begingroup$ P.S. The Tyari dialect of Neo-Aramaic is widely reported to have three distinct rhotic phonemes. The Blackwell Companion to Phonology (2011) says that 2.5% of the world's languages have three rhotic phonemes (and 0.3% have four). $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 5 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ I bit my tongue while trying to drop "r" while pronouncing car, now I suddenly sounds natural non rhotic... Maybe the orge's tongues is special ;D $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Mar 5 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ Could you edit in the IPA notation for each of the sounds you're talking about? I have no idea what a "weak English r sound" is or if that's even important to your Ogres! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 5 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ This would be better for conlang.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ May 17 at 1:47

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An old and assimilative language may have accumulated three different rhotics.

It has often been said that English "hangs around in dark alleys waiting to mug other languages for spare vocabulary" and this has an element of truth to it, English has accumulated many loanwords over the centuries, and in fact it can be said that there are very few origianl words in the English language at all. In most cases the spelling and pronunciation tend to be "anglicised" (read bastardised if you are talking to people whose language the word originated in) but this is not always the case and as a result there are words used in local dialects of English that don't follow the usual rules of pronunciation and present a challenge to outsiders.

If the ogres have been picking up vocabulary from many different languages for a very long time then their language can have picked up many phonemes that do not share a common root and are spelled and/or pronounced very differently.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a good point. This is, in fact, why English today has three ways to pronounce the "ch" cluster. One is pretty much native ("choose"), one comes from French ("champagne"), and one from Greek loanwords to classical Latin ("character", "chaos"). $\endgroup$ May 18 at 10:00
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Same Reason We Distinguish Other Phonemes

Without knowing the specifics of your various R sounds, I think a case can be made for having three of them because they fit within the general scheme of consonant series.

There are quite a few "R" sounds on the IPA chart, looking across the Approximates, Taps/Flaps, and Trills we find an R sound corresponding to the points of articulation of just about every place of articulation.

Generally speaking, a language has the sounds it has at the present time because a) the present inventory of sounds evolved from the several previous inventories and b) the present inventory is useful to the speakers of the language.

So, your Ogres have three R sounds because they need and find useful three different R sounds!

There are loads of things you can do grammatically, historico-phonolgically, gender / age / other group related, ceremonially, hierarchically, etc with those sounds. Literally, so many options that we'd have to close the question for being too broad!

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