L-SOUNDS. There are various ways in which the LETTER l is expressed in English. In phonetic terms, /l/ is made by raising the tongue tip to make and maintain central contact with the ALVEOLAR ridge, allowing air to escape round the sides. Variations can be made by changing the shape of the tongue behind the apical closure. A dark l [ł] is made by pulling the body of the tongue backwards, and a clear l [l] by pushing it up and forward towards the hard palate. Dark l is characteristic of the speech of northern England (excluding Geordie) and southern Scotland; clear l is characteristic of southern Ireland and India. Both types are heard in Northern Ireland and northern Scotland, and widely in AmE. In the speech of southern England and in varieties that developed from it, such as AusE, /l/ tends to be clear before the vowel in a syllable, as in lick /lɪk/, and dark after it, as in kill /kɪł/. As the tongue takes up the position for /ł/, a transitional schwa-like sound may be heard: /kɪəł/. Dark l may be accompanied by lip rounding, which often begins on the transitional vowel, making it sound more like /ʊ/, as in /kɪʊł/. The transitional vowel indicates that a dark l follows immediately, and the /l/ is in effect redundant. In some varieties, such as that of south-east England (in particular Cockney) and AusE, dark l is frequently vocalized (turned into a vowel), because the tongue tip does not make a central closure with the alveolar ridge. This ‘l’ therefore sounds like a back vowel or /w/: /kɪʊ/, /kɪw/ for kill. In NZE, where the influence of ScoE is strong, /l/ can be dark in all environments, but the clear/dark distinction as in RP is widespread. If, instead of maintaining central contact, the tongue strikes the alveolar ridge momentarily, or is held close to it, the result to the ears of native speakers of English is a kind of /r/. Some languages, such as Chinese and Japanese, have a single phoneme, in which the tongue contact is optional. When speakers of these languages speak English, they appear to mix up /l/ and /r/, as in the shibboleths of Chinese English velly solly (very sorry) and Japanese English I rub you (I love you). Many personal-name diminutives in English have l rather than r, as with Hal for Harry, Del for Derek, and Tel for Terry. See CONSONANT, L, LATERAL, LIQUID, R-SOUNDS, SOMERSET, SPEECH.
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