Distinguishing between guttural L and non-guttural L

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sethmachine

Banned
English-US
Hello everyone,
I was wondering if native speakers of English are aware of the differnece between the guttural L (pronounced at the back of the throat) and the non-guttural L. Both are used in English, but are native speakers even aware of the difference between them? (can they distinguish between them, making them seperate phonemes?).
ex:
Non-guttural L=ell IPA= /ɛl/
Guttural L= peel IPA= [pʰiːɫ]
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Well, we must all* be able to distinguish between them, in that we use the right variant in the right place. And we use dark "l" instead of light "l" (or vice versa) when we are mimicking certain accents.

    Do we hear tham as different phonemes? My answer is "no, we don't, because the difference isn't phonemic in English":)

    ---------
    *EDIT: I mean "all those of us whose varieties of English have the two allophones".
     
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    gasman

    Senior Member
    Canada, English
    I am not at all sure how one would say L in the back of the throat; I am also not at all sure how L can be a guttural sound; it is a sound formed by pushing the tongue against the hard palate just behind the teeth.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Gasman, sethmachine is talking about the difference between light "l" (like the "l" at the beginning of leaf) and dark "l" (like the "l" at the end of feel). They are pronounced slightly differently in some varieties of English.
     
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    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I am not at all sure how one would say L in the back of the throat; I am also not at all sure how L can be a guttural sound; it is a sound formed by pushing the tongue against the hard palate just behind the teeth.
    Well yes, but it's the tongue tip that presses against the alveolum. The rest of the tongue can assume an arched or depressed shape, and that's where the two sounds come from.

    In my variant, the hard-l sound is all you hear, even when /l/ follows labial and fricative consonants like /p/ /b/, /f/ /v/, which tend to encourage the tongue to flatten. To my ear, German speakers use the "soft" /l/, where the tongue is flattened against the roof of the mouth.
    .

     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I am not at all sure how one would say L in the back of the throat; I am also not at all sure how L can be a guttural sound; it is a sound formed by pushing the tongue against the hard palate just behind the teeth.
    What sethmachine calls a "guttural L" is often called a velar "L". Velar consonants are produced by pressing the back part of the tongue against the soft palate (the back part of the roof of the mouth).

    "L" has a velarized allophone and a non-velarized allophone in Southern British English and Southern American English, but not in most other varieties of American English, in Australian English or in Scots.

    - Ekkehard König and Johan van der Auwera (eds.), The Germanic Languages.

    I use the velar "L" in some environments and the non-velar "L" in others. Some people use the one where I would use the other, but the difference between the two is not phonemic in the sense that the word has the same meaning for me whichever types of "L" are used.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    No, seth, it's a phonetic issue, and the choice is made automatically by native speakers.

    Can you tell us why are you asking? Knowing that might help us answer your question better:)
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Seth,

    I could tell you when I use velar "L" and when I use non-velar "L", but usage may be different where you are. Most of the people who have two types of "L" aren't even aware of the fact. A WR forero from your part of the USA could probably help you, though. In my experience and that of the author of the passage that I quote above, a lot of North Americans use only the velar "R". You wouldn't have to worry about the issue, and you would be on safe ground, if you did likewise.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Because I am interested in the consonant sounds found in English.
    I've been thinking about the velar /l/ in AE, and I'm coming to the conclusion that it's not very common. The average speaker wouldn't use it at all, with one notable exception-- Southerners.

    The Southern variant has a y-upglide after some consonants, and before some vowels. /ch/ is an easy example to distinguish-- "chestnut" comes out as chyestnut, for example. And we say "Nyew" York instead of "Noo."

    I can't really derive a rule, but in the case of /l/ I hear a y-upglide into the following vowel in words like blue and lewd. Also little, which accounts for "leetle" in songs and movies where Northerners try to imitate the Southern dialect.

    Gawd, this is my first day back, and already the subject of "Gooberisms" comes up. Anyway, I guess the velar /l/ is shaping up as something of a shibboleth, a subtlety of pronunciation that outsiders can't imitate quite exactly.

    Velar /l/ can be affected as a sort of refinement or mincing of speech, especially by women-- listen to movies from the 30s, for example, and you'll hear it often. In "A Star is Born," for example, the main character Ester Blodgett is deemed in need of a name change. The studio types come up with "Vicky Lester," and thinking of that scene I can hear the fancified velar /l/ in "Lestah" when they repeat it a couple of times to try it on for size.

    I wish I could see a consistent principle in all this-- but at least there are some desultory examples for you to think about.
    .

     

    Scalloper

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Are you sure you haven't got those the wrong way round? My understanding was that it was the alveolar l that was less common in the US, even in initial positions.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Are you sure you haven't got those the wrong way round? My understanding was that it was the alveolar l that was less common in the US, even in initial positions.
    Well, the alveolum is the ridge of "hard palate" just behind your teeth, and its where you place your tongue tip to make the "gutteral" /l/, where the rest of the tonque is flexed downward, not in contact with the roof of the mouth. That's the common one in AE.

    The other /l/ is "velar" because the middle part of the tongue rises up against the velum or "soft palate." If your tongue moves even further back, toward the uvula, you get the Spanish /ll/ sound. This is the uncommon /l/ in AE, but is represented in the Southern dialect.
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    Scalloper

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Yes, I know what the distinction is. I find it difficult to recognise the difference in sound but I can tell how I articulate the letter "l" - I can't even do the velar l. I just have got the impression from various sources, that the situation in the US was different to how you're suggesting e.g.

    http://www.antimoon.com/forum/posts/6970.htm

    Here the first poster makes the situation out to being the opposite of what you're saying.

    that the situation was
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I'll bet you can pronounce a velar /l/ with a little coaching, scalloper.

    Start with the word huge. Because of the y-upglide in the vowel, the /h/ here will be hard to pronounce without velar properties.

    So prolong the /h/ sound, mindful that you're starting the word huge (and not a word like ha). Repeat the sound, like a snake hissing. Now do the same thing, but voice the consonant. You should be making a sound like the Spanish /ll/ at this point. You could also think of it as a "pronounced" version of /gh/.

    Now while make the same sound, raise the tip of your tongue toward the roof of your mouth until an /l/ of sorts emerges-- remember, you're not hissing any more, you're voicing the consonant, more like gargling but not as gutteral.

    Do all this right, and you come up with a velar /l/, but of course the sound might be hard to reproduce in the context of rapid speech. It pretty much has to be learned by imitation at a very early age, and come naturally after practice.
    .
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Foxfirebrand, I think you may be using a different definition of velar /l/.

    My velar/dark /l/ is the one I pronounce at the end of words like feel or before consonants in words like milk: the tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge, and the back part (NB only the back part) of the tongue approaches touches the soft palate, so the tongue forms a sort of U-shape. (Sometimes in fast informal speech I completely vocalise this sound - in other words, I don't touch the alveolar ridge with the tip of my tongue.)

    This seems to me to be very much what you're describing in the first paragraph of post 13:)
     
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    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Foxfirebrand, I think you may be using a different definition of velar /l/.

    My velar/dark /l/ is the one I pronounce at the end of words like feel or before consonants in words like milk: the tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge, and the back part (NB only the back part) of the tongue touches the soft palate, so the tongue forms a sort of U-shape. (Sometimes in fast informal speech I completely vocalise this sound - in other words, I don't touch the alveolar ridge with the tip of my tongue.)

    This seems to me to be very much what you're describing in the first paragraph of post 13:)
    Well yes, what you call the dark "velar" /l/ is described in that paragraph-- except that I'm not describing the velar phoneme, which corresponds to the soft /l/. I say the tongue touches the alveolar ridge (like you), but then go on to say the rest of the tongue is depressed-- this creates a large resonating chamber at the back of the throat, which is to say the glottal region.

    It's at this point that you mix the two /l/ sounds together by saying the back part of your tongue touches the soft palate. This has me scratching my head. You're talking about the part of the mouth where the /k/ sound is made, and the /ch/ in the German word Nachtmusik.

    I think we're talking about the same "dark" sound, except that you're calling it "velar" and describing a contact with the back of the tongue with the soft palate (velum). To me the back of the tongue doesn't touch the palate, it creates an open space for this liquid consonant to resonate.

    We seem to agree that the "dark" /l/ is far more common in AE, especially outside the South.

    The soft /l/, which I call velar, is made exactly by raising the center or back part of the tongue to make a sound that ranges from /l/ to /y/-- and the reason for this hybrid /l/ is that it's sounded before vowels with a y-upglide. I used the example of people who pronounce "new" as nyew instead of noo, and "lute" as lyewt instead of loot.

    The motions of oral speech-making parts are highly habituated and very hard to control or change. In addition, we hardly give these matters conscious thought even while learning them as children-- so most people find it hard to even discern, much less describe, what this or that part of the mouth is doing during speech. Isolating and self-consciously forming and pronouncing a single phoneme is a real trick-- the result is often not the same as what happens unconsciously and automatically, in the context of rapid speech.

    It's a little like staring in the mirror to get an idea of what you look like-- often not a good picture! What other people see is far more accurate, and probably more attractive-- your face in motion, speaking with emotion and animation.

    That's why measuring natural speech scientifically is the best way to determine what's really going on in the mouth. A good linguistics course makes use of the graphic data supplied by these methoods-- I hope someone can find a linguistics website that sets down terms we can all agree on-- and shows graphics based on ultrasound imaging.
    ..
     

    Scalloper

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I think there is room for confusion between the velarised l (represented [ɫ]) and an actual velar consonant [ʟ]. I think we were originally looking at the contrast between the former and [l] here but foxfirebrand is bringing up occurence of the second (possibly in the Southern US?). I was unaware that this exists at all in English so can appreciate if it was this that foxfirebrand meant as the uncommon variety.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Well, I knew I'd finally stumble across examples of the velar "soft" /l/ that we can all listen to.

    It appears in the song linked below. You'll hear the "dark" /l/ in words like floor and love, and the "light" /l/ in telephone-- and listen for the phrase "deep blue sea" for a particularly clear example.

    And yes, the variant you're hearing is Southern AE-- I believe Jerry Lee is from Louisiana, to be specific.

    [Unauthorized video link removed. Sorry.]

    If nothing else, now y'all know what kind of stuff I surf around for on YouTube.
    .
     
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