I hope you can help as I'm teaching English overseas and I want to teach the standard pronunciation to students. I have a South African accent but I am starting to get paranoid and wonder if I pronounce things wrong.

For example: The phonetic spelling for "golf" is /ɡɒlf/ or /ɡɑːlf.

When I say golf,

There is no contact between my tongue and the roof of my mouth or my teeth. My tongue actually stays at the bottom of my mouth when making the l sound.

  1. I would like to know, when I pronounce "golf", am I making the /l/ sound or is it more like a vowel sound. Please can you give me a phonetic transcription of how I say it.
  2. Is contact needed to produce a /l/ - or am I still producing an /l/ sound?
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this question and its answers do no provide anything useful for other users of this site. – jk - Reinstate Monica Jun 6 '17 at 9:46
  • Point of fact, this question has now been asked 3 times, and while that is not an overwhelming majority of LSE users, it isn't at all unique to the OP. – user6726 Aug 9 '17 at 15:50

While I haven't any measurements of the articulation, my impression of my own American pronunciation of "golf" and "also" is that the "l" part is a uvular glide. That is, there is no real "l" there at all (as in your speech), but shortly before the onset of the "f" or "s", the articulation of the preceding vowel is modified by bringing the back of the tongue closer to the uvula. In your speech, I hear no such glide.

I imagine that, phonologically, a syllable offset "l" has been uvularized, as syllable offset "l" is in other words, and vocalized (meaning all tongue contact is lost) before a voiceless fricative, leaving behind only the uvularization gesture in my speech, but leaving nothing at all in your speech (except perhaps some compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel).


The only way to determine the exact nature of your "l" is with a broader corpus of recordings plus some actual physiological data. L is subject to various degrees of backing and vocalization not only in English but many other languages. In my dialect of American English, /l/ is retracted, but still lingually articulated, when preceded by a back vowel in the same syllable (however: /l/ is completely deletes after /ɑ/ in certain clusters, e.g. wa(l)k, pa(l)m where some people retain l). In some dialects, this backing also applies in milk, help, fill. It resembles [w] to the point that you might well transcribe milk as [mɪwk]. It is thus possible that in your dialect, l has simply become w in some coda context. The question then is whether "code" and "cold" are pronounced the same or different for you. You also want to look at l intervocalically, as in "folly, allow", because stress affects syllabification which may affect how l is realized.

There is no right or wrong in terms of pronunciation, just confusing or not, from a TESOL student's perspective. There is no one standard, rather there are many standards, for example US standard, RP for British Standard, Kenyan Standard, etc. If you're aiming for RP, sorry, you missed the mark, but it sounds pretty okay for SA standard.

The downward formant transition at the end of the vowel in in your "golf" clearly indicates that there is a w-like element for "l". In the case of "also", there is nothing at all. I suspect that the vowel quality is different, and different from "ostrich", "awesome" or "arse" (if you have the arse/ass distinction).

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