Yesterday in chat, an unfortunate event occurred. We were discussing how difficult it is to distinguish two morphemes in a foreign language that do not function as such in your own language. Then at some point two people were displeased at something I said; but I believe they had interpreted my line in a way not at all connected to what I meant.
Normally I would not go through this much trouble, but getting the same angry reaction from two different people I know well means that I need to set things straight. I hope they will read this and understand what I said, and consider it in the proper context.
As an example of a pair of vowels that are not very hard to distinguish, I brought up the example of /ʌ/ and /ɜ(ː)/ as they appear to a Dutchman, as in but and bird. I picked this situation because it is one I am intimately familiar with. I said that these vowels are easy enough for a Dutchman to distinguish, even though we don't have them as separate morphemes in Dutch. Then I said that someone with a strong Dutch accent in English would probably pronounce both vowels as /ɜ/, but that most of us get them about right with some practice (as opposed to certain more elusive distinctions).
I added that a Dutchman with a bad Dutch accent in English might pronounce but and bird almost the same. Then, as an afterthought, I considered that such a Dutchman would probably pronounce the r in bird, because r's are always pronounced in Dutch, so that he would say /bɜt/ and /bɜrt/ for but and bird. This is what I said:
A Dutchman might pronounce but and bird the same way.
< unrelated line by someone else >
Although someone whose English is bad enough to confuse /ʌ/ and /ɜ(ː)/ would probably pronounce the r in bird.
This was still about the Dutchman with a bad accent, but apparently my interlocutor missed that, since he didn't reply, suggested that I was born out of wedlock, and disappeared. Then someone else came in and accused me of making a prescriptivist statement about the accent of native speakers. I explained that this was about the accent of Dutchmen, not Americans, but he did not seem to read or accept that.
I will explain my line again. Some Dutchmen have a good accent in English. Their English can be rhotic or non-rhotic: of both varieties, good accents exist in Dutchland. However, because Dutch is exclusively rhotic, a Dutchman with a bad accent in English will almost invariably pronounce the r—he would not even think of the non-rhotic option; and so he will never pronounce bird as /bɜt/, but always as /bɜrt/. That was all I said.
In no way did I say that native speakers who pronounced the r had a "bad accent", which would be a silly statement anyway, in a serious discussion. All of this was about what it is like to pronounce vowels in a foreign language, never about native speakers.