It’s quite amazing how much one consonant can affect an accent. That’s why in this series we’re going to be focusing our attention on a few consonant sounds to see how we can change them. After all, accent softening is all about increasing clarity – and a weak L sound can often lead to misunderstandings.
So, how do we form the ‘L’? The ‘L’ is what we call a ‘lateral’ consonant, in that it’s produced by raising the tongue to the alveolar ridge and allowing the sound to emanate from the sides that we’ve left open. In biological terms, these sides are called the ‘lateral’ edges of the tongue, so that’s it.
But this is not quite so clear-cut, as there are actually two different ways of making an ‘L’ – and putting the wrong type in the wrong place can land you in a completely different accent. So here goes:
The Light ‘L’
The L has a light and dark setting, and this depends on the position of the tongue during L-ing. For the lighter L, only the tongue tip touches the alveolar ridge. This makes a very light, almost ‘flicked’ sound on the consonant.
1. Say the world ‘light’, using only the tongue tip. Now ‘la-la-la, lee-lee-lee, law-law-law’. You should feel the tip alternate between the vowel and the consonant, only lightly touching at the front.
The Dark ‘L’
The Dark L is just like a light L, but uses a lot more tongue blade rather than tip. The tongue may go further forward, but no further than the lips, and you should feel the tongue raise higher a little bit.
1. Say the word ‘tall’. Feel that the ‘L’ sound is darker there than it would be for ‘taller’. Now ‘ball-ball-ball, boll-boll-boll, bill-bill-bill’.
2. Alternate between light and dark ‘L’ sounds. ‘Law-ball-law-ball. Lee-beel-lee-beel’. Can you feel the difference?
How ‘L’ can go wrong
In RP (Received Pronunciation), there are some very specific rules regarding L’s.
1. A light L always comes before a vowel sound. Light. Taller. Links. Lilypad.
2. A dark L always comes before a consonant sound. Ball. Tall. Tattle. Bottle.
It’s when you get them mixed up that things get confusing. For instance:
1. The typical Welsh ‘valleys’ sound uses only light L’s, not dark L’s. Think about the word ‘milk’, and say it with a light ‘L’. Suddenly, Welsh!
2. Standard American, in contrast, uses only dark L’s. Say the words “Light”, “Locked”, or “Taller” with dark L’s, and suddenly – American.
Finally, standard Cockney (amongst other accents) will tend to skip over the dark L’s completely, making them into a ‘w’ sound.
1. Say the phrase ‘Still, Tell Bill’, and put three ‘w’ sounds instead of the dark L’s. Do you feel the cockney?
So, here are a few great tongue twisters for you to start looking at for your light and dark L’s. I’ll darken the dark l’s for you by putting them in bold.
Larry Hurley, a burly squirrel hurler, hurled a furry squirrel through a curly grill.
Lily ladles little Letty’s lentil soup.
Lisa lolled listlessly.
How did you find the dark and light L’s? Do you feel the difference? Get back to me using the comments below.
But if that was all easy-peasy, time to get started on your T’s and D’s in our next article!