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Voiced dental, alveolar and postalveolar lateral approximants

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Voiced alveolar lateral approximant
IPA Number155
Audio sample
Entity (decimal)l
Unicode (hex)U+006C
Braille⠇ (braille pattern dots-123)
Voiced postalveolar lateral approximant
Audio sample
Voiced dental lateral approximant
Audio sample

The voiced alveolar lateral approximant is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents dental, alveolar, and postalveolar lateral approximants is ⟨l⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is l.

As a sonorant, lateral approximants are nearly always voiced. Voiceless lateral approximants, /l̥/ are common in Sino-Tibetan languages, but uncommon elsewhere. In such cases, voicing typically starts about halfway through the hold of the consonant. No language is known to contrast such a sound with a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative [ɬ].

In a number of languages, including most varieties of English, the phoneme /l/ becomes velarized ("dark l") in certain contexts. By contrast, the non-velarized form is the "clear l" (also known as: "light l"), which occurs before and between vowels in certain English standards.[1] Some languages have only clear l.[2] Others may not have a clear l at all, or have them only before front vowels (especially [i]).


Features of the voiced alveolar lateral approximant:

  • Its manner of articulation is approximant, which means it is produced by narrowing the vocal tract at the place of articulation, but not enough to produce a turbulent airstream.
  • There are four specific variants of [l]:
    • Dental, which means it is articulated with either the tip or the blade of the tongue at the upper teeth, termed respectively apical and laminal.
    • Denti-alveolar, which means it is articulated with the blade of the tongue at the alveolar ridge, and the tip of the tongue behind upper teeth.
    • Alveolar, which means it is articulated with either the tip or the blade of the tongue at the alveolar ridge, termed respectively apical and laminal.
    • Postalveolar, which means it is articulated with either the tip or the blade of the tongue behind the alveolar ridge, termed respectively apical and laminal.
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
  • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.
  • It is a lateral consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream over the sides of the tongue, rather than down the middle.
  • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the intercostal muscles and abdominal muscles, as in most sounds.


Languages may have clear apical or laminal alveolars, laminal denti-alveolars (such as French), or true dentals, which are uncommon. Laminal denti-alveolars tend to occur in continental European languages.[3] However, a true dental generally occurs allophonically before /θ/ in languages that have it, as in English health.

Dental or denti-alveolar[edit]

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Arabic Gulf[4] لـين/leen [l̪eːn] 'when' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Arabic phonology
Chinese Cantonese /laan4 [l̪an˨˩] 'orchid'
Mandarin /lán [l̪an˨˥]
Hungarian[5] elem [ˈɛl̪ɛm] 'battery' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Hungarian phonology
Italian[6][7][8] molto [ˈmol̪ːt̪o] 'much, a lot' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ before /t, d, s, z, t͡s, d͡z/.[6][7][8] See Italian phonology
Macedonian[9] лево/levo [l̪e̞vo̞] 'left' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Macedonian phonology
Malayalam ലാവണം [läːʋɐɳɐm] 'Salty' See Malayalam phonology
Mapudungun[10] afkeṉ [l̪ɐ̝fkën̪] 'sea, lake' Interdental.[10]
Norwegian Urban East[11] anlegg [²ɑnːl̪ɛg] 'plant (industrial)' Allophone of /l/ after /n, t, d/.[11] See Norwegian phonology
Spanish[12] altar [äl̪ˈt̪äɾ] 'altar' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ before /t/, /d/. See Spanish phonology
Swedish Central Standard[13] allt [äl̪t̪] 'everything' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Swedish phonology
Tamil[14] புலி/puli [pul̪i] 'tiger' See Tamil phonology
Uzbek[15] kelajak [kel̪ædʒæk] 'future' Laminal denti-alveolar. Velarized between a non-front rounded vowel and a consonant or juncture phoneme.[15]
Vietnamese Hanoi[16] lửa [l̪ɨə˧˩˧] 'fire' See Vietnamese phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Arabic Standard[17] لا/lā [laʔ] 'no' See Arabic phonology
Armenian Eastern[18] լուսին/lusin [lusin] 'moon'
Assyrian ܠܚܡܐ/läḳma [lεxma] 'bread'
Catalan[19][20] laca [ˈlɑkɐ] 'hair spray' Apical 'front alveolar'.[19][20] May also be velarized.[21] See Catalan phonology
Chuvash хула [хu'la] 'city'
Dutch Standard[22] laten [ˈl̻aːt̻ə] 'to let' Laminal. Some Standard Belgian speakers use the clear /l/ in all positions.[22] See Dutch phonology
Some Eastern accents[23] mal [mɑl̻] 'mold' Laminal; realization of /l/ in all positions.[23] See Dutch phonology
Dhivehi ލަވަ/lava [laʋa] 'song'
English Most accents[24] let [lɛt] 'let' Varies between apical and laminal, with the latter being predominant.[24]
Irish, Geordie[25] tell [tʰɛl] 'tell'
Esperanto luno [ˈluno] 'moon' See Esperanto phonology
Filipino luto [ˈluto] 'cook' See Filipino phonology
Greek λέξη/léksi [ˈleksi] 'word' See Modern Greek phonology
Italian[6][26][27] letto [ˈlɛt̪ːo] 'bed' Apical.[7] See Italian phonology
Japanese /roku [lo̞kɯ̟ᵝ] 'six' Apical.[28] More commonly [ɾ]. See Japanese phonology
Kashubian[29] [example needed]
Khmer ភ្លេង/phléng [pʰleːŋ] 'music' See Khmer phonology
Korean /il [il] 'one' or 'work' Realized as alveolar tap ɾ in the beginning of a syllable. See Korean phonology.
Kyrgyz[30] көпөлөк/köpölök [køpøˈløk] 'butterfly' Velarized in back vowel contexts. See Kyrgyz phonology
Laghu laghu [lagu] 'Laghu language'
Laghuu Nậm Sài, Sa Pa Town [la˧˨ ɣɯ˥] 'Laghuu language'
Mapudungun[10] elun [ëˈlʊn] 'to give'
Nepali लामो [lämo] 'long' See Nepali phonology
Odia[31] [bʰɔlɔ] 'good'
Persian لاما/lāmā [lɒmɒ] 'llama' See Persian phonology
Polish[32] pole [ˈpɔlɛ] 'field' Contrasts with [ɫ̪] (/w/) for a small number of speakers. When it does, it might be palatalized to [lʲ]. See Polish phonology
Romanian[33] alună [äˈlun̪ə] 'hazelnut' Apical. See Romanian phonology
Scottish Gaelic[34] maoil [mɯːl] 'headland' Contrasts with /ɫ̪/ and /ʎ/. See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Slovak[35] mĺkvy [ˈml̩ːkʋi] 'silent' Syllabic form can be long or short. See Slovak phonology
Slovene[36] letalo [lɛˈt̪àːlɔ] 'airplane' See Slovene phonology
Spanish[37] hablar [äˈβ̞läɾ] 'to speak' See Spanish phonology
Welsh diafol [djavɔl] 'devil' See Welsh phonology
Ukrainian[38] обличчя/oblychchya [oˈblɪt͡ʃːɐ] 'face' Contrasts with palatalized form. See Ukrainian phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Igbo Standard[39] lì [l̠ì] 'bury'
Italian[7] il cervo [il̠ʲ ˈt͡ʃɛrvo] 'the deer' Palatalized laminal; allophone of /l/ before /ʃ, t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/.[7] See Italian phonology
Turkish[40][41] lale [ʎ̟ɑːˈʎ̟ɛ] 'tulip' Palatalized; contrasts with a velarized dental lateral [ɫ̟].[40][41]May be devoiced elsewhere. See Turkish phonology
Zapotec Tilquiapan[42] lan [l̠an] 'soot'


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Faroese[43] linur [ˈliːnʊɹ] 'soft' Varies between dental and alveolar in initial position, whereas the postvocalic /l/ may be postalveolar, especially after back vowels.[43] See Faroese phonology
French[44] il [il] 'he' Varies between laminal denti-alveolar and apical alveolar, with the latter being predominant.[44] See French phonology
German Standard[45] Liebe [ˈliːbə] 'love' Varies between denti-alveolar, laminal alveolar and apical alveolar.[45]
Norwegian Urban East[46] liv [liːʋ] 'life' In process of changing from laminal denti-alveolar to apical alveolar, but the laminal denti-alveolar is still possible in some environments, and is obligatory after /n, t, d/.[46] See Norwegian phonology
Portuguese Most Brazilian dialects,[47][48][49] some EP speakers[50] lero-lero [ˈlɛɾʊ ˈlɛɾʊ] 'runaround'[51] Clear, dental to sometimes alveolar.[52] Only occurs in syllable onset, with l-vocalization widely occurring in coda. Sometimes found before front vowels only in the European variety. See Portuguese phonology.
Lituânia [l̪it̪uˈɐ̃ɲ̟ɐ] 'Lithuania'

Velarized alveolar lateral approximant [edit]

Velarized L
IPA Number209
Audio sample
Entity (decimal)l​ˠ
Unicode (hex)U+006C U+02E0
X-SAMPA5 or l_G or l_?\

The voiced velarized alveolar approximant (a.k.a. dark l) is a type of consonantal sound used in some languages. It is an alveolar, denti-alveolar, or dental lateral approximant, with a secondary articulation of velarization or pharyngealization. The regular symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represent this sound are ⟨⟩ (for a velarized lateral) and ⟨⟩ (for a pharyngealized lateral), though the dedicated letter ⟨ɫ⟩, which covers both velarization and pharyngealization, is perhaps more common. The latter should not be confused with belted ⟨ɬ⟩, which represents the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative. However, some scholars use that symbol to represent the velarized alveolar lateral approximant anyway[53] – though such usage is considered non-standard.

If the sound is dental or denti-alveolar, one could use a dental diacritic to indicate so: ⟨l̪ˠ⟩, ⟨l̪ˤ⟩, ⟨ɫ̪⟩.

Velarization and pharyngealization are generally associated with more dental articulations of coronal consonants, so dark l tends to be dental or denti-alveolar. Clear (non-velarized) l tends to be retracted to an alveolar position.[54]

The term dark l is often synonymous with hard l, especially in Slavic languages. (Cf. Hard consonants)


Features of the dark l:


Dental or denti-alveolar[edit]

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Bashkir ҡала/qala [qɑˈɫɑ] 'city' Velarized dental lateral; occurs in back vowel contexts.
Belarusian[55] Беларусь/Biełaruś [bʲɛɫ̪äˈrusʲ] 'Belarus' Laminal denti-alveolar; contrasts with palatalized form. See Belarusian phonology
Bulgarian[56][better source needed] стол/stol [stoɫ̪] 'chair' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Bulgarian phonology
Catalan[21][57] alt [ˈäɫ̪(t̪)] 'tall' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ before /t, d/.[57] See Catalan phonology
Classical Armenian[21][57] խաղեր/xałer [χɑɫɛɹ] 'games' /ʁ/ ġ in modern Armenian.
Icelandic[58] sigldi [s̺ɪɫ̪t̪ɪ] 'sailed' Laminal denti-alveolar; rare. See Icelandic phonology
Kashubian Older southeastern speakers[29] [example needed] Laminal denti-alveolar; realized as [w] by other speakers.[29]
Lithuanian[59] labas [ˈɫ̪äːbɐs̪] 'hi' Laminal denti-alveolar; contrasts with palatalized form. See Lithuanian phonology
Macedonian[60] лук/luk [ɫ̪uk] 'garlic' Laminal denti-alveolar. Present only before back vowels (/u, o, a/) and syllable-finally. See Macedonian phonology
Norwegian Urban East[59][11] tale [ˈt̻ʰɑːɫ̪ə] 'speech' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ after /ɔ, oː, ɑ, ɑː/, and sometimes also after /u, uː/.[11] However, according to Endresen (1990), this allophone is not velarized.[61] See Norwegian phonology
Polish Eastern dialects[32] łapa [ˈɫ̪äpä] 'paw' Laminal denti-alveolar. Corresponds to [w] in other varieties. See Polish phonology
Russian[62] малый/malyj [ˈmɑ̟ɫ̪ɨ̞j] 'small' Pharyngealized laminal denti-alveolar. See Russian phonology
Scottish Gaelic[63] Mallaig [ˈmäʊɫ̪ækʲ] 'Mallaig' Contrasts with /l/ and /ʎ/. See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Turkish[40][41] lala [ɫ̟ɑˈɫ̟ɑ] 'servant' Laminal denti-alveolar; contrasts with a palatalized postalveolar lateral [ʎ̟].[40][41] May be devoiced elsewhere.See Turkish phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Afrikaans Standard[64][65] tafel [ˈtɑːfəɫ] 'table' Velarized in all positions, especially non-prevocalically.[64][65] See Afrikaans phonology
Albanian Standard llullë [ˈɫuɫə] 'smoking pipe'
Arabic Standard[66] الله/ʼAllah [ʔaɫˈɫaːh] 'God' Also transcribed as ⟨⟩. Many accents and dialects lack the sound and instead pronounce [l]. See Arabic phonology
Catalan[21] Eastern dialects cel·la [ˈsɛɫːə] 'cell' Apical. Can be always dark in many dialects. See Catalan phonology
Western dialects al [ɑɫ] 'to the'
Dutch Standard[67] mallen [ˈmɑɫ̻ə] 'molds' Laminal; pharyngealized in northern accents, velarized or post-palatalised in southern accents. It is an allophone of /l/ before consonants and pauses, and also prevocalically when after the open back vowels /ɔ, ɑ/. Many northern speakers realize the final /l/ as a strongly pharyngealised vocoid [ɤˤ], whereas some Standard Belgian speakers use the clear /l/ in all positions.[67] See Dutch phonology
Some Netherlandic accents[23] laten [ˈɫ̻aːt̻ə] 'to let' Pharyngealized laminal; realization of /l/ in all positions.[23] See Dutch phonology
English[68] Australian feel [fiːɫ] 'feel' Most often apical; can be always dark in Australia and New Zealand. See Australian English phonology, New Zealand English phonology, and English phonology
General American
New Zealand
Received Pronunciation
South African
Scottish loch [ɫɔx] 'loch' Can be always dark except in some borrowings from Scottish Gaelic
Greek Northern dialects[69] μπάλα/lla [ˈbaɫa] 'ball' Allophone of /l/ before /a o u/. See Modern Greek phonology
Georgian ჟო/zholo [ˈʒo̞ɫo̞] 'raspberry' An allophone of /l/ before /o u/ and /a/. See Georgian phonology
Kurdish Sorani lta [gɑːɫˈtʲaː] 'joke' See Kurdish phonology
Romanian Bessarabian dialect[70] cal [kaɫ] 'horse' Corresponds to non-velarized l[in which environments?] in standard Romanian. See Romanian phonology
Serbo-Croatian[71] лак/lak [ɫâ̠k] 'easy' Apical; may be syllabic; contrasts with /ʎ/. See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Uzbek[15] [example needed] Apical; between a non-front rounded vowel and a consonant or juncture phoneme. Non-velarized denti-alveolar elsewhere.[15]

Variable [edit]

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Portuguese European[72] mil [miɫ̪] 'thousand' Dental and strongly velarized in all environments for most speakers, though less so before front vowels.[73][50]
Older and conservative Brazilian[74][75][76][77] álcool [ˈäɫ̪ko̞ɫ̪] 'alcohol, ethanol' When [lˠ ~ ~ ~ lˀ],[78] most often dental. Coda is now vocalized to [ ~ ʊ̯] in most of Brazil (as in EP in rural parts of Alto Minho and Madeira).[79] Stigmatized realizations such as [ɾ ~ ɽ ~ ɻ], the /ʁ/ range, [j] and even [∅] (zero) are some other coda allophones typical of Brazil.[80] See Portuguese phonology

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Adjaye, Sophia (2005). Ghanaian English Pronunciation. Edwin Mellen Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-7734-6208-3. realization of /l/ is similar to that of RP: a 'clear' or non-velarized /l/ = [l] pre-vocalically and intervocalically; and a 'dark' or velarized /l/ = [ɫ] pre-consonantally and pre-pausally
  2. ^ Celce-Murcia, Marianne; et al. (2010). Teaching Pronunciation. Cambridge U. Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-521-72975-8. the light /l/ used in all environments in [standard] German (e.g., Licht "light," viel "much, many") or in French (e.g., lit "bed", île "island")
  3. ^ Schirmer's pocket music dictionary
  4. ^ Qafisheh (1977), pp. 2, 14.
  5. ^ Siptár & Törkenczy (2000), pp. 75–76.
  6. ^ a b c Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004), p. 117.
  7. ^ a b c d e Canepari (1992), p. 89.
  8. ^ a b Bertinetto & Loporcaro (2005), p. 133.
  9. ^ Lunt (1952), p. 1.
  10. ^ a b c Sadowsky et al. (2013), pp. 88–89.
  11. ^ a b c d Kristoffersen (2000), p. 25.
  12. ^ Martínez-Celdrán (2003), p. 255-259.
  13. ^ Engstrand (2004), p. 167.
  14. ^ Keane (2004), p. 111.
  15. ^ a b c d Sjoberg (1963), p. 13.
  16. ^ Thompson (1959), pp. 458–461.
  17. ^ Thelwall (1990), p. 38.
  18. ^ Dum-Tragut (2009), p. 20.
  19. ^ a b Wheeler (2005), pp. 10–11.
  20. ^ a b "Voiced Alveolar Lateral - Central". Els Sons del Català.
    "Voiced Alveolar Lateral - Nord Occidental". Els Sons del Català.
  21. ^ a b c d Recasens & Espinosa (2005), pp. 1, 20.
  22. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 197, 222.
  23. ^ a b c d Collins & Mees (2003), p. 197.
  24. ^ a b Wells (1982), p. 515.
  25. ^ Jones, Mark. "Sounds & Words Week 4 Michaelmas 2010 Lecture Notes" (PDF). Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  26. ^ Bertinetto & Loporcaro (2005), p. 132.
  27. ^ Canepari (1992), pp. 88–89.
  28. ^ Labrune (2012), p. 92.
  29. ^ a b c Jerzy Treder. "Fonetyka i fonologia". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
  30. ^ Kara (2003), p. 11.
  31. ^ Masica (1991), p. 107.
  32. ^ a b Rocławski (1976), p. 130.
  33. ^ Chițoran (2001), p. 10.
  34. ^ "The guide to reading Scottish Gaelic" (PDF).
  35. ^ Hanulíková & Hamann (2010), p. 374.
  36. ^ Pretnar & Tokarz (1980), p. 21.
  37. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003), p. 255.
  38. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995), p. 10.
  39. ^ Ikekeonwu (1999), p. 108.
  40. ^ a b c d Zimmer & Orgun (1999), pp. 154–155.
  41. ^ a b c d Göksel & Kerslake (2005), p. 8.
  42. ^ Merrill (2008), p. 108.
  43. ^ a b Árnason (2011), p. 115.
  44. ^ a b Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), p. 192.
  45. ^ a b Mangold (2005), p. 49.
  46. ^ a b Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 24–25.
  47. ^ Depalatalization and consequential iotization in the speech of Fortaleza Archived 2011-11-01 at the Wayback Machine. Page 2. (in Portuguese)
  48. ^ Barbosa & Albano (2004), p. 229.
  49. ^ (in Italian) Accenti romanze: Portogallo e Brasile (portoghese) – The influence of foreign accents on Italian language acquisition Archived 2012-03-30 at the Wayback Machine
  50. ^ a b Finley, Sara; Rodrigues, Susana; Martins, Fernando; Silva, Susana; Jesus, Luis M. T. (2019). "/l/ velarisation as a continuum". PLOS ONE. 14 (3): e0213392. Bibcode:2019PLoSO..1413392R. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0213392. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 6411127. PMID 30856195.
  51. ^ Runaround generator
  52. ^ Cruz-Ferreira (1995), p. 92.
  53. ^ For example Beal (2004).
  54. ^ a b Recasens & Espinosa (2005), p. 4.
  55. ^ Padluzhny (1989), pp. 50–51.
  56. ^ Bulgarian phonology
  57. ^ a b c Rafel (1999), p. 14.
  58. ^ Scholten (2000), p. 22.
  59. ^ a b Mathiassen (1996), p. 23.
  60. ^ Lunt (1952), pp. 11–12.
  61. ^ Endresen (1990:177), cited in Kristoffersen (2000:25)
  62. ^ Jones & Ward (1969), p. 168.
  63. ^ Ó Dochartaigh (1997).
  64. ^ a b Donaldson (1993), p. 17.
  65. ^ a b Lass (1987), p. 117.
  66. ^ Watson (2002), p. 16.
  67. ^ a b Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 58, 197, 222.
  68. ^ Roca & Johnson (1999), p. 73.
  69. ^ Northern Greek Dialects Portal for the Greek Language
  70. ^ Pop (1938), p. 30.
  71. ^ Gick et al. (2006), p. ?.
  72. ^ Cruz-Ferreira (1995), p. 93.
  73. ^ On /l/ velarization in European Portuguese Amália Andrade, 14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, San Francisco (1999)
  74. ^ (in Portuguese) The process of Norm change for the good pronunciation of the Portuguese language in chant and dramatics in Brazil during 1938, 1858 and 2007 Archived 2016-02-06 at the Wayback Machine Page 36.
  75. ^ TEYSSIER, Paul. "História da Língua Portuguesa", Lisboa: Livraria Sá da Costa, pp. 81-83.
  76. ^ Bisol (2005), p. 211.
  77. ^ "Um caso de português tonal no Brasil?" – Centro de Comunicação e Expressão – Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (in Portuguese). Page 49.
  78. ^ "Um caso de português tonal no Brasil?" – Centro de Comunicação e Expressão – Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (in Portuguese). Page 52.
  79. ^ MELO, Gladstone Chaves de. "A língua do Brasil". 4. Ed. Melhorada e aum., Rio de Janeiro: Padrão, 1981
  80. ^ Português do sul do Brasil – variação fonológica Archived 2019-12-16 at the Wayback Machine Leda Bisol and Gisela Collischonn. Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, 2009. Pages 153–156.


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