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So, this came up in the recent silent letter post in the comment section. Looking up pronunciations of talk gives things like:

Now, I am far from an expert in reading these phonetic writing systems, but I am pretty sure at least two of those do not contain any 'l' sound. And when playing the audio version on all except the last link I am not hearing an 'l' sound either. Sooo, I am assuming these pronunciations are somehow localized, yet I am unable to figure out who is saying it which way?

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    No, there's no /l/ in talk. Nor in walk, chalk, calk, and stalk, which all end in /ɔk/ in American English (where long marks aren't used because vowel length isn't distinguished). Balk (can be pronounced without /l/ as /bɔk/, but some speakers say /balk/ or /bɔlk/ when speaking of baseball. As to where it went, it was troublesome to enunciate a postvocalic lateral between a low back rounded vowel and a velar stop. The tongue-tip work to enunciate the /l/ got in the way of the tongue-back work enunciating the /ɔ/ and the /k/. So it got dropped when the cluster was reduced. – John Lawler Nov 20 '14 at 20:54
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    @JohnLawler: If that were the case there wouldn't be americans in this conversation right now claiming they pronounce it, nor would the merriam webster link pronounce the l so clearly. Not dismissing everything you're saying, just saying it's more complex than that. – David Mulder Nov 20 '14 at 20:58
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    There may be an apical gesture, but any postvocalic /l/ will be velarized in English (a "dark L", unlike the /l/ phonemes in Romance languages), and the lateral air arrangement is often not necessary. You're hearing the pre-velarization of the vowel; that may be perceived as an allophone of /l/ in some idiolects and not in others. The question is how the tongue moves, and that varies a lot from person to person and conversation to conversation. – John Lawler Nov 20 '14 at 21:11
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    @JohnLawler - Any idea what that means in English? – Hot Licks Nov 20 '14 at 23:16
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    Dictionary pronunciations are not intended to do that. The nuances occur in context, so there's no substitute for long stretches of recorded spontaneous speech. If you're interested in the nuances, I suggest J.C. Catford's A Practical Introduction to Phonetics. It's designed for autodidacts, and it's full of little experiments the reader can make in the privacy of their own room to produce (and experience acoustically and experientially) what different sounds actually sound like, and how they're made. – John Lawler Nov 21 '14 at 15:49
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In standard pronunciation the l is silent in "talk/walk" and similar words (see list above). This is a matter of simplification of pronunciation. After the long vowel /o:/ (this is not the correct phonetic sign) the consonant group lk is regularly simplified to /k/ as the clear pronunciation of /l+k/ would be cumbersome.

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  • Not for me. I've been pronouncing it with the L for my entire life. It is definitely supposed to be pronounced with the L,but the problem is that America has become to lazy to pronounce anything correctly. Hell,they can't even pronounce the T in correctly and exactly. – JeremiahTDK May 31 '19 at 16:51
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I pronounce the L in talk, walk, chalk, and other similarly spelt words. I believe it's a subtlety that is lost with familiarity. In fast speech, the pronunciation of the L is indistinguishable from saying the word without the L. This is why I believe most people believe that the L is silent. In slow speech, the L is noticeable.

I've noticed in Southern United States accents where the pace of the speech is slower and the contraction "y'all" is used a lot, you'll hear the L.

The people that I've met that pronounce the L like I do interestingly have something else in common with me, they have tried to shed their regional accent. I think people who become very conscious of how they enunciate words tend to work harder at the subtleties of pronunciation. Those that don't just settle for or acquire the regional accent.

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    I pronounce the L in talk,too. I've said it that for as long as I've been alive. It helps me to avoid confusion. For instance,if you pronounced walk without the L,I would think you were talking about a wok and because of that,I would think you were talking about cooking. How confusing would that be? – JeremiahTDK Jun 24 '19 at 13:58
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Yes, it's regional. An interesting study of regional (US) variations in pronunciation, as well as terminology, was done at Harvard (the Harvard Dialect Survey) and the survey data were converted to a series of maps by Joshua Katz at NCSU:

http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/maps.html

There is an American Dialect Society, who discuss in great detail, for example, what has happened to the "aw" sound that supposedly distinguishes "hawk" from "hock".

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