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I need to know how "Calm" is exactly pronounced (whether the L is silent or not). And I need a good reference as an evidence.

  • It certainly isn't silent. C-A-M sounds very different. – Oldcat Aug 5 '15 at 20:45
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    It varies. Some people pronounce the /l/; others don't. I don't, for example. Also, the vowel varies, because low back vowels are different in different dialects. I say /kam/ in American English. But I've heard /kɔm/ and /kalm/ and (I think less often) /kɔlm/. – John Lawler Aug 5 '15 at 20:45
  • Seems to vary; m-w.com shows several pronunciations. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calm . I speak with an American midwest accent, and I pronounce the L in "calm". – Zwi Aug 5 '15 at 20:49
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    Any good dictionary should provide you with accepted pronunciations. I do not pronounce the l (nor in balm or palm), but I know many who do. ODO suggests the l is only accepted in American accents, Macmillan and CDE and AHD omit it altogether, and Merriam-Webster suggests at least four different accepted pronunciations. – choster Aug 5 '15 at 20:57
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    @Oldcat: for people (like me) who have the silent l in calm, it’s still differentiated from cam by the vowel. Calm has a long vowel, roughly the same as in harm or father, while cam has a short vowel, roughly the same as in cat. – PLL Aug 5 '15 at 21:43
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I know no authoritative reference for this. In educated and uneducated speech I have heard calm with no l as in harm, calm with as strong l, and variants inbetween. All may be considered correct.

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    One note: “…with no l as in harm…” here means a British-style pronunciation of harm, with the r not pronounced, unlike most American pronunciations of harm, which are rather different. – PLL Aug 5 '15 at 21:40
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    Quite correct. Forgive me for that - it was getting late. Dontcha just hate analogies? – Anton Aug 6 '15 at 20:17
  • @PLL I'm British, I've never heard anyone not pronounce the r in harm, I've never heard anyone pronounce the l in calm either. However the vowel sounds in both words are always the same in both words. – BoldBen Aug 19 '17 at 7:54
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    @BoldBen “I’m British, I’ve never heard anyone not pronounce the r in harm.” Really? In most British accents, the r in words like harm isn’t pronounced — it affects the vowel, making it a long a not a short a like in ham, but it’s not pronounced as an r sound in its own right. For instance, the OED lists the British pronunciation of harm as /hɑːm/, where /ɑː/ represents the “long a” sound; and compare, for instance, the UK and US pronunciations of part at Forvo. – PLL Aug 19 '17 at 8:06
  • @PLL It still sounds like an r to me. – BoldBen Aug 19 '17 at 16:02
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To understand the potential for variation, I recommend that you start out saying "caw". During this, your tongue will naturally stay at or near the bottom of your mouth.

Now say "caw-m". Your tongue stays at the bottom of your mouth as your lips close for the "mm" sound.

Now say "call" ("caw - ll"). To make the L sound your tongue has to move from the bottom of your mouth to touching the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper front teeth.

Now move to "caw - l - m" (as three connected but distinct, slow sounds). Moving from the L sound to the M sound,your lips close and your tongue moves back to the center of your mouth.

Finally, start speeding up the pronunciation, trying to make the L and M parts closer together and less distinct. At some point you will notice that you don't have to actually touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth; just having it in the middle of the mouth produces a "semi-L" that is distinct from the "no-L" sound when your tongue stays low, and this is what is indicated with the /kȯ(l)m/ pronunciation option.

So, depending on how quickly and how carefully you are trying to say it, you may end up almost anywhere in the spectrum of "no-L" to "full-L" pronunciation.

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    In my Great Lakes dialect, call me a taxi and calm ee a taxi are homophones; we pronounce the L there. – tchrist Aug 5 '15 at 21:46
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    often "calm" has the same vowel as "father" rather than "caw" for people who distinguish between them. – herisson Aug 5 '15 at 22:49
  • @sumelic, I'd be interested to see a dialect map for that; I distinguish between them and have never heard the same vowel used for both. (MN & MD are my primary listening locations) – Hellion Aug 5 '15 at 23:31
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    Well, you can see at this blog post that John Wells uses "PALM" as the keyword for the vowel /ɑː/ rather than /ɔː/ (represented by THOUGHT) in his system of lexical sets. American commenters beneath also seem to identify PALM with LOT rather than with THOUGHT. I don't actually know much about where and by whom PALM is pronounced with the vowel of THOUGHT (or equivalently, the vowel of "caw"); I'll have to study it. phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2010/02/lexical-sets.html – herisson Aug 6 '15 at 0:28
  • You'll see that John Lawler and tchrist also discuss this in the comments below the question; I believe John Lawler is using /a/ to represent the "father" vowel, and tchrist's /kɔlm/ represents the pronunciation with the "caw" vowel. Anyway, my only point is that there's considerable variation in the pronunciation of the vowel in this word, as well as in that of the "l". – herisson Aug 6 '15 at 0:40
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Variant pronunciations, including sometimes highly questionable variants (eg. "Nook-yuh-lur" as used by George W. Bush), are a fact of English language. While some variants should be avoided in particular contexts, when usage of a variant pronunciation becomes sufficiently common, it can find its way into the dictionaries just as the variants of "nuclear" have.

This youtube video by Emily Brewster, associate editor at Merriam-Webster, is insightful: http://m.youtube.com/?#/watch?v=8nYmWt1J4Lg

The pronunciations of "calm" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary include a variant that does not include the "L" sound and, indeed, pronunciations of this word in certain parts of the United States appear to lack the L sound altogether.

  • Downvoter: please explain your objection. – scottb Aug 5 '15 at 21:09
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    I'm not the downvoter, but you don't really answer the question (or at least, you raise questions and never answer them). Is calm like nuclear, where using the wrong pronunciation outside the region it is common will result in your being looked down on? Or is calm like either, where you can use whichever pronunciation you want and nobody will look askance at you? – Peter Shor Aug 5 '15 at 22:35
  • @PeterShor: The 1st two sections were meant to provide background information that the reader may find informative or interesting. The final section contains the answer to the original poster's question, does it not? The midwestern accent of American English pronounces calm "ˈkälm" which I took as my point of reference. – scottb Aug 5 '15 at 22:37
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    ... unless he found himself speaking with Bostonians. Then it might go over pretty well. – scottb Aug 6 '15 at 13:04
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    Bostonians shouldn't be spoken with but spoken to. – Joost Kiefte Aug 6 '15 at 22:14
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Over the last few years there has been a movement to pronounce certain words "correctly" based on how they are spelled. For instance, February had been traditionally pronounced "Feb-u-ary" because it rhymes better with January. However, there has been a movement in media to say "Feb-ru-ary" whenever possible.

Unfortunately, this movement has caused people in news and television to start hyper-correcting, saying all manner of words that have silent in their entirety. The argument many people make with "calm" is "It has an L!" Well, so does "walk" and there is NO alternate pronunciation of that word.

The answer is the year 1066 and 2000 years of invasions, occupations, and political complexities that go far beyond "correctness." "Calm" does, in fact, have a silent L because of 1066; however, in some regions it has a lightly pronounced L. Why? Because that's how language works naturally over time.

The funny thing is that, even though I know this distinction is the same as "pecan" bring pronounced either "pee-can" or "pik-ahn," I cannot escape the fact that when people pronounce the L in "calm" I feel like slapping them and saying "Please don't do that."

  • Actually, in the US "feb-yoo-air-ee" is more common but "feb-roo-air-ee" is the traditional pronunciation - Mental Floss – Drew Nov 28 '15 at 17:12

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