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I am a native English speaker with a British accent.

When I say words like: lion, liver, below etc. - there is definite contact between my tongue and teeth/roof of the mouth.

When I say words like: golf, golfer, wolf, else.

  1. I don't notice my tongue touching my teeth or roof of the mouth. Is this normal? If I make a conscious effort to make contact when saying "golf" it sounds odd.

  2. Should there always be contact (between the tongue and teeth/roof of mouth) when pronouncing the "l" in these words?

  • 1
    It would probably be helpful to know which UK accent you have. This sounds like the accent heard most often in London and along both sides of the Thames Estuary. (Thus it may well be "normal" there, but less so elsewhere) – Andrew Leach May 24 '17 at 11:27
  • @AndrewLeach It's a common feature of young RP speakers too now. – Araucaria May 24 '17 at 11:30
  • I would say that those young speakers are using Estuary English, not RP. "RP" is very specific and hardly anyone speaks like that now. For example, if "RP" now uses [ö] or [ʊ] in people what do you call the dialect of those who do pronounce the [l], like me? (Which may be the reason for the downvote on your answer, although that wasn't me; this comment may be more relevant to your answer) – Andrew Leach May 24 '17 at 11:36
  • @AndrewLeach I'm a tutor on SCEP Every year, without fail, the rise of vocalised /l/, th-fronting and /t/-glottaling in modern RP comes up in the lectures. These are facts established by official studies. You might want to have a gander at John Well's paper from 1994 here. You can scroll to section 3.3. Note that thirty years later there is eve more l-vocalisation than was already seen then. – Araucaria May 24 '17 at 14:18
  • @AndrewLeach Old people, like you and me will tend to have different features from younger speakers. As with any other variety of English we see plenty of variation within RP (think for example about speakers who use a diphthong or long vowel in words like sure -rhymes with paw for some speakers but not others). Or think about the final vowel in happy which is a KIT for some speakers but FLEECE-like for a majority of younger speakers. – Araucaria May 24 '17 at 14:21
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It sounds very much as though the Original Poster has a vocalised /l/. What this means is that when /l/ occurs at the end of a syllable, it is realised as as a vowel, usually [ö] or [ʊ].

This is becoming more common in Southern Standard British English (aka RP) and in other regional varieties too. It is especially common in London regional English.

Although this is now very common, it used to be sneered at by RP speakers. However, it has long been the case that many RP speakers regularly use this allophone of /l/ after bilabial consonants, for example in the final syllable of the word people.

In short, this is a common allophone of /l/ often found in syllable codas. The Original Poster has nothing to worry about!

  • Any reason on the downvote? I can't improve my post without some! – Araucaria May 24 '17 at 11:29
  • @Araucania Man Would Theresa May be an example of RP? Might there be a link to a speech or BBC broadcast as an example? Something those of us on this side of the pond are likely to hear :) – Xanne May 25 '17 at 5:52

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