I am a bit confused about this.

Question: Is this the main difference between L-vocalization and the Dark L?

  • Vocalised L - The tip of the tongue DOES NOT touch the roof of the mouth.
  • Dark L - The tip of the tongue DOES touch the roof of the mouth.

3 Answers 3


There is an unfortunately confusing term "L-vocalization" which refers to the process where l becomes one of w, u, o, e.g. in Serbo-Croatian final l → o. Some dialects of English have this process, so that "milk" is [mɪwk]. The essential difference between one of the vocoids w, u, o and dark l is tip raising, so yes to those two questions. However, "vocalic" can also used to describe syllabic consonants (this was common in older studies of Indo-European).

  • +1 I think homophonous term would be more apt, as L-vocalisation is also widely used in a similar fashion to T-glottaling. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 21:12
  • 1
    Or Austro-Bavarian i
    – Darkgamma
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 0:48

The syllabic l (IPA [l̩]) is no different than the ordinary consonant [l] in place of articulation, but takes the place of a vowel in a syllable.

The dark l (IPA [ɫ]) is a velarized (or pharyngealized) form of the consonant [l], meaning that back of the tongue simultaneously articulates an [l] and is raised at the velum (or pharynx).

Each can exist independently of each other. Neither has to do with whether the tip of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth (which is the distinction between apical/laminal consonants).

In English, every syllabic l is also a dark l (and could therefore be written [ɫ̩] in IPA), e.g. "apple" [æpɫ̩]. However, a dark non-syllabic l exists at the coda (end) of a syllable, as in "pool" [pu:ɫ].

  • 1
    Nice answer - but the OP asked about vocalised /l/ referring to an allophone of /l/ which is articulatorily entirey vocalic in terms of there being no redirection of the air as it leaves the mouth (in other words it's no longer a lateral approximant). In other words they're asking about using [ʊ] as an allophone of /l/ in a language-specific environment [English, pobably]. I think your understanding vocalic in terms of occupying the nucleus of asyllable. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 21:16

The term L-vocalisation is often far divorced from the term dark L, in that they are two totally independent processes. Vocalisation of a consonant is its change into a vowel — any vowel. Aside from the typical English vocalisation of preconsonantal dark L to [u̯], many other avenues of vocalisation exist; Serbo-Croatian vocalisation makes it into a syllabic [o̞] (as has been mentioned), and Austro-Bavarian varieties typically vocalise their L into a high front [i], rather than a back vowel.

In essence, L-vocalisation is a sound change, while dark L is a term for a specific sound

  • Thanks. But, if the tip of the tongue DOES touch the roof of the mouth, can I assume that a "dark l" sound is not produced. Or is it possible to still make the dark L sound without the tongue touching the roof of the mouth?
    – James
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 12:34
  • 1
    "Dark" L is merely a layman term for a velarised coronal lateral.
    – Darkgamma
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 13:29

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