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Certain speakers of English have a tendency to “drop” L’s that occur after a vowel but before another consonant, as in balm, calm, golf, gulf, palm, wolf, and many more.

Often these aren’t completely dropped, but instead change the preceding vowel a little bit. So instead of wolf, they have woof; instead of palm they have pom or pawm; instead of golf, they have gawf.

People who drop their R’s in a similar position are said to have a non-rhotic pronunciation there, or to speak a non-rhotic dialect. What then is the corresponding term for someone who routinely drops their L’s, so “a non-????? speaker”? Lambdacism and lallation seem like dead ends.

This isn’t a new thing either, considering the historical L’s no longer heard in words like could and stalk. Whether it’s growing, I’m not sure, but perhaps so.

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@Tristan I'm confused, are you positing that there's no such thing as a non-rhotic accent? Would your IPA transcription of a typical RP speaker saying the word "card", for example, include an /r/ (where I think a long vowel would normally go)? It is my understanding that this phenomenon is well recognized and understood by linguists. –  Cameron Aug 2 '12 at 22:06
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@Tristan Earth is a very good example of non-rhotic speakers from the UK dropping their R’s. Also look at better, daughter, bother. You could be mistaken because you are imagining an R phoneme there that underlies your pronunciation, so you just imagine you are producing something when you are not. –  tchrist Aug 2 '12 at 22:28
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@Tristan A “non-rhotic R” is an oxymoron: it is or it isn’t. It may be that your regional dialect is rhotic. It may also be that you are misperceiving, since all literature is unanimous in its agreement that non-rhotic dialects suppress Rs in particular situations and express them in others. You have a great deal of professional literature in stark disagreement with you. Let us ask Barrie on the morrow, as he is from the south o England and has the linguistic background to address your concerns. Are you perchance from the westcountry, or from the north? That could explain your confusion. –  tchrist Aug 2 '12 at 23:01
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What's more, English is not the only language where this has occurred. The Polish character ɫ was once pronounced like a dark l, but is now pronounced as [w]. –  Mark Beadles Aug 3 '12 at 0:54
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@MarkBeadles It happens in Braziu, too. –  tchrist Aug 3 '12 at 0:55
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2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

It would appear that the word you’re looking for is L-vocalization, which, to quote the wikipedia page on the topic, “is a process by which an [l] sound is replaced by a vowel or semivowel sound”, which appears to be what is being described here, specifically with regards to English L-vocalization — where “an /l/ sound occurring at the end of a word or before a consonant is replaced with the semivowel [w]”, such as the palm/pawm issue (the example given in the article is of milk [mIwk]).

I don’t think there is a term for someone who does this in the non-??? speaker fashion, although L-vocalizer could be a valid construction.

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Oh, I answered: "There is a Wikipedia article that refers to this as L-dropping, which is distinct from L-breaking and L-deletion. I suppose you could call it "non-lambdal" but that doesn't appear to be in common usage." But you have covered the other part of the Wiki article I linked to, and yours fits better, so I'm deleting mine. –  KitFox Aug 2 '12 at 21:41
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I’m going to accept that I can’t say non-???, and just use L-vocalizer. Thanks! –  tchrist Aug 5 '12 at 3:23
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An alternative to LissyNumber's answer is "velarisation" associated with a "dark L". I supposed you could call this a velarising speaker.

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L-velarization ≠ l-vocalization. –  Mechanical snail Dec 15 '12 at 7:17
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