Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Why is the letter l silent when pronouncing salmon properly?

share|improve this question
    
Much on "silent L" here, if you have half a moment to read it. –  J.R. Jan 18 '13 at 9:51
3  
@J.R. Way too much attitude in that article, and too little scholarship. “Although “palm”—the tree or the part of the hand—is invariably pronounced without an L sound by the literate,” — stop right there. –  tchrist Jan 18 '13 at 11:59
    
That article claims the l in Chelmsford is silent in the UK. It isn't. –  user24964 Jan 18 '13 at 13:46
    
All his examples with -alm are pronounced without the /l/ in British English. The other examples vary, for example I've never heard an /l/ in chalk, but I've never heard balk without it. –  Colin Fine Jan 18 '13 at 17:40
    
@ColinFine Similarly, there is a tight connection between calming and call me a cab: in my dialect, the only difference is the end bits. –  tchrist Jan 18 '13 at 18:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

It’s because the ‹l› was never really there in any historical pronunciation of English. The reason why is an interesting one, and worth answering.

The spurious “silent l” was introduced by the same people who thought that English should spell words like debt and island with extra “historical” letters, which would be silent but tell you something presumably important regarding the word’s origin.

share|improve this answer
2  
My grandfather - like most of the people from rural Indiana where he grew up - doesn't pronounce ANY "L"'s, whether almond or palm or salmon or qualm or balm. Do you think that's a quirk of regional dialect, or does your answer regarding historical letters apply to all of those? –  Marcus_33 Jan 18 '13 at 13:11
4  
It's only the L's after /a/ or /æ/ that he doesn't pronounce. I'll bet he pronounces the L in silver or Fillmore, or loon. Loss of /l/ after certain vowels (when it was ever there) is rather like loss of /r/, the other liquid consonant in English. –  John Lawler Jan 18 '13 at 15:46
4  
Do you have a reference for this, and some idea of who "the same people" are? –  Nate Eldredge Jan 18 '13 at 18:34
2  
There are many words where l is inserted and is pronounced in ModE. ME asaut > assault (similarly for somersault), ME caudron > cauldron, ME faut > fault –  RainDoctor Jan 20 '13 at 5:49
1  
@Marcus_33: I (and I think most English people) don't pronounce the 'l' in any of those words. –  Colin Fine Oct 31 '13 at 0:14

In French, Latin l became vocalized: that's why Latin digraph al became au in French. In English and in some cases, first latin l was restored silently in EModE. In some words, the l is pronounced as well: ME asaut > assault (similarly for somersault), ME caudron > cauldron, ME faut > fault

Later, some words lost u: false, falcon, herald, realm. In this set words, some have silent l: balm, palm, psalm, salmon.

Some lost both l and u: safe, chafe. EModE salf > safe

All these examples from Christopher Upwards' The history of English Spelling.

share|improve this answer
2  
I think you will find that may people pronounce most of those l’s in the words you cite. It may be that the “l-coloring” is different from a bright l, but it is certainly still having an effect of some sort. –  tchrist Jan 20 '13 at 10:34
    
The point is not about bright and dark l. Non-existent l was introduced and pronounced in certain words. So, the explanation of appealing to some history does not work. –  RainDoctor Jan 20 '13 at 19:35

protected by RegDwigнt Oct 30 '13 at 21:20

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.