What is the phonological process whereby a speaker would use [ʊ] as a replacement for [l]?

Some examples off the top of my head; [lɪtl] -> [lɪtʊ], [gɪgl] -> [gɪgʊ], [twɪŋkl] -> [twɪŋkʊ]

  • 1
    In English this is a progression from "dark l". Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 13:16
  • Perhaps laziness to open your mouth ;D?
    – Derfder
    Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 14:44
  • Is this for English? I've never heard this at all? Is this ... 'baby' talk?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 16:26
  • 1
    Phonologists call this l-vocalisation.
    – robert
    Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 0:17
  • @Mitch: It was very common in Australian English when I was growing up, and I think it still is. I remember one host of the TV chat show Beauty and the Beast making fun of it at every opportunity. Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 5:45

2 Answers 2


I say this a lot. Like Hippietrail said, it's a progression from the dark l. I can say as [wɫ̩] when it's used as a discourse particle. My dialect tends to turn a syllable final velarized [ɫ] into [w]. As a result, I VERY often say [wː] instead of [wɛɫ]. I can record it if you like.

That aside, the way it progresses from a dark l to a [w] or a [ʊ], depending on your perspective (is it a syllabic consonant, or a vowel? lol) is because the mouth shape for [ɫ] is almost exactly the same for [w] except the apex of the tongue is touching the alveolar ridge. As soon as the tip lets go, it sounds like [w] and not [ɫ].

In case you don't know, [ɫ] is an /l/ with the back of the tongue velarized. That is, it's nearing the velum (where you produce /k/ and /g/).

As for the name of this phonological process? I haven't the faintest idea. De-alveolarisation, maybe? Haha, maybe not.

  • 1
    Probly "velarization" is still the important term. The laterality isn't needed finally, as long as the velar nature can be determined. [ʊ] is the ideal vowel to represent dark /l/, since it's velar (i.e, high back, just as high front is palatal) and lax (and thus not very strongly rounded or diphthongized).
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 0:47

It's basically a type of debuccalization. Although the standard examples of debuccalization are things like s > h and t > ʔ, this is the same kind of process, since the loss of alveolar closure turns syllabic [ɫ] into a kind of laterally colored high back vowel.

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