Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Vunerable [sic] Dark /l/

For some time I’ve noticed British speakers (BBC) pronouncing the word vulnerable as ‘vun-rable’ (with deleted /l/), but this is the first time I have firm evidence in print, in the form of a misspelling — so often a reliable indicator of mispronunciation by a writer.

The deletion of (syllable-final) dark /l/ in vulnerable is an instance of language change observable in our lifetime. It is consistent with what has been happening throughout the history of English: words like balm, calm, chalk, talk and names like Falklands, Falkner, Holmes, Walker all have deleted /l/ after a back vowel.

In Estuary English, which many believe is supplanting Received Pronunciation (RP) as the prestige British accent, syllable-final /l/ is vocalized (i.e. it becomes a vowel, roughly short ‘u’ ), such that dole, doll and doe all sound alike.

In Singapore English, syllable-final /l/ is vocalized after most vowels, in words such as bill and bell; and cull becomes homophonous with cow. After schwa (underlined vowel in asleep) and the short and long ‘o’ and ‘u’ vowels, however, it is deleted — such that pool sounds like poo and school hall sounds like school whore!

3 comments:

le radical galoisien said...

Wah, finally got someone linguistically-trained but still oversimplify situation hor ...

"i.e. it becomes a vowel, roughly short ‘u’"

Do you mean /ʌ/?

Anyway, it's definitely not just "is" [vocalised]. Perhaps, "often is" or "may be". For example, final-plosive conversion into a glottal stop occurs, but it is not always a regular occurrence.

Must also be my New England dialect hor, because I still articulate the /l/ in "could", "calm" and so forth. They are allophones stand-alone, but what happens when you make liaison?

"could" --> almost elided "l": /cʊɫ ̥d

"could have" --> /cʊl.(d^h)æv/

(Now that I think about it, you can get interesting things when you combine voiced stops at the end of a word with /h/ [and a following vowel] in the word following.)

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, Galoisien

Yes, that's the symbol I wanted but didn't manage to get it up right. Any tips? Merci bien.

And yes -- as I said, /l/ is sometimes vocalized and sometimes deleted. It seems to me that the former occurs after front vowels, and the latter elsewhere.

Interesting to hear you do articulate /l/ in those words in your dialect!

I do admit to some oversimplification, but that's primarily because this isn't meant to be a 'hard' linguistics blog (which I'd rather not be writing). I write with these three audiences in mind: trainee teachers, students, and experienced teachers. So I try to write about topics that might be useful to them.

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Forgot to ask: Is /l/ being deleted (in 'vulnerable' or other words) in North America too? I suspect it's still going strong.