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This question is about a mild form of a specific speech pathology that seems to be gaining prevalence in Australia and if there is a term for it. It is not an "accent" issue, because it can be found in many flavours of Australian accents.

I called it a "lazy L" - here's what it is...

When pronouncing "L", whenever the substition would not make the word ambiguous and where the “L” lies neither between vowel sounds nor at the start of the word, instead of making an "L" sound (where the tongue is held to the alveolar ridge), the tongue remains immobile and instead the lips are slightly pursed making a vowel-like sound that in English is sometimes written as "ooh" (in the sense of experiencing mild pain, such as stubbing one's toe).

For example, "mental" is pronunced as "mentooh" and "girl" as "gehooh". The sound is similar to a leading "w" sound. It's not a pursed as the German ü. Perhaps similar to the end sound of the American "eew" exclamation of disgust.

So, what is the formal name of this substitution?

  • Speech pathology seems an odd phrase for it. It's been common in London for decades, at least in some words. – Colin Fine Jul 12 at 21:25
  • @ColinFine "speech defect" then? What is the correct term for an incorrect, but deliberate (ie not arising from an inability), pronunciation? The correct pronunciation of an "L" requires the tip of the tongue to be held to the alveolar ridge. This issue is where the speaker chooses, either through laziness or mimickry of others who also practice the habit, to make a "slightly pursed w" sound instead. – Bohemian Jul 12 at 22:52
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    In British English at least this has become standard (with all trace of the l having now been lost) in some words e.g. calm, balm, caulk (I'd guess the conditioning is something like between a low/mid-back vowel and another consonant, but it may be more complicated). Varieties like Estruary English vocalise almost all dark l's (i.e. all coda l's) – Tristan Jul 13 at 11:13
  • @tristan your examples, another is “almond”, are not instances of this phenomenon, but are simply unvoiced/silent. Also, speakers who do it would say the L is silent, because it falls between 2 vowels (that seems to be the rule) presumably because the substitution is type of vowel. – Bohemian Jul 13 at 14:02
  • @Bohemian yeah, they don't feature any trace of the l any more, but this is a result of them having already gone through the complete chain l > ɫ > w > Ø including the second step which is the l-vocalisation discussed here (note that English has no ɑʊ̯ or ɔʊ̯ diphthongs, presumably motivating and allowing the loss after the l vocalised) – Tristan Jul 13 at 14:08
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It's called "l-vocalization" (previous related question: Dark L vs L Vocalisation).

A range of sounds can result from it, and because of this and also because of differences in transcriptional practices, the transcription in the International Phonetic Alphabet could vary among [w], [u], [ʊ] [o], [ɤ].

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