The dark L is considered by the IPA to be a velar consonant, meaning it is "articulated with the back part of the tongue (the dorsum) against the soft palate" (Wikipedia). However, it is far from that: it is pronounced with the back of the tongue the farthest from the soft palate. It can be produced using an open back unrounded vowel together with the tongue touching the tip of the front palate.

Am I correct?


2 Answers 2


Yes, I think you are correct. American English l in the onset of a syllable is velar, typically, while in the offset of a syllable it is uvular. The SPE feature system gives a good foundation for describing this with its three binary tongue body features high, back, and low, which apply to primary articulations or secondary articulations, and as well to vowels and consonants.

In the SPE system, velars and velarized sounds are [+high,+back] and uvulars and uvularized sounds are [-high,+back]. It is not clear to me about how [+/- low] fits into this scheme, so far as secondary consonant articulation is concerned.

The textbook consensus that syllable offset l in American English is velarized rather than uvularized has puzzled me, since it seems so obviously wrong. Maybe this is due to the influence of Peter Ladefoged, who, of course, did not speak American English.

  • 3
    I didn't even realize there was a consensus that coda /l/ was specifically velarized, as opposed to having some other kind of dorsal secondary articulation, in American English. I thought part of the point of the term "dark l" and the IPA symbol [ɫ] was to maintain ambiguity about whether the secondary articulation was velar, uvular, or pharyngeal Jan 26, 2018 at 0:49
  • @sumelic Maybe you're right about maintenance of ambiguity. I hope so, because that would be a sensible position.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 26, 2018 at 4:51
  • Whether ʟ or ɫ, either don't seem to be velar, since they aren't produced with the back of the tongue raised, but rather lowered. Am I correct?
    – gil_mo
    Jan 27, 2018 at 22:28
  • @gil_mo Well, that's the subject of discussion. For l at the end of a syllable, I've given my opinion that there is no raising of the tongue body, so, as you say, there is no velarization, but rather the "darkness" is produced by uvularization (at least in my dialect of American English and others I'm familiar with) . I have no opinion about the symbols used, but I wouldn't take them seriously.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 28, 2018 at 4:01
  • @gil_mo No with [ ʟ ] the toungue must be touching the soft palate in order to redirect the air laterally. That's why it's a lateral approximant. There is no contact of the tongue tip and alveolar ridge with [ ʟ ]. The reason why we say thta the back of the tongue is raised with [ ɫ ] is because it will be the highest part of the body of the tongue. (The body of the tongue doesn't include the blade, which we use to make the alveolar contact). So the top surface of the tongue is concave when we make a dark l, [ ɫ ]. Jan 30, 2018 at 13:54

The IPA letter ʟ is described as a lateral approximant at velar place of articulation, and is know to exist in only a few languages. The thing in English called "dark l" is transcribed as ɫ (either as a stand-alone character or l plus "combining tilde overlay"), and is a "velarized l", where "l" could have various places of articulation (dental, alveolar, postalveolar). The same diacritic is usable with any consonant, and describes a secondary articulation, not a primary place of articulation (as would be the case of the velars k, g, ʟ). A secondary articulation is usually more open than a primary one, i.e. more vowel-like, though in some cases labialization as a secondary articulation may be realized as simultaneous closure at the front and the back.

The vowel analog of a velar is ɨ, but velarization is realized over a range of vowel heights, analogous to ɨ...ɤ. So a "velarized" sound might in fact be better described as a uvularized sound, if indeed in a language the tongue is retracted further and lowered.

  • 1
    I really don’t see what ɨ has to do with this or how it’s an “analog” (to what?). Velarisation usually involves the rear part of the tongue being raised to a position akin to that used to produce ɯ or ɤ, so I get why you’re involving ɤ here—but where does ɨ, which isn’t even a back vowel, enter into things? Jan 27, 2018 at 16:58

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