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Oftentimes one can hear final l after a vowel get a vowel quality; whether this is an /u/ or /w/, I am not certain of. I have the feeling it is becoming more common today, but you can hear examples of this from earlier; in Pink Floyd’s The Wall for instance (‘Another Brick in the Wall Part II’), the children’s choir sings:

  • 1′17″ ‘controw’ (‘control’)
  • 1′55″ ‘wall’, though some of them say ‘waw’
  • 2′04″ more ‘waw’ than ‘wall’?

My question then is twofold:

  • How recent is this pronunciation of final -l following a vowel?
  • Does this pronuncation indicate L is (or is becoming) a semivowel, as Y and W? If so, why / why not?
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  • 2
    From Wikipedia: In Cockney, Estuary English, New Zealand English and Australian English, l-vocalization can be accompanied by phonemic mergers of vowels before the vocalized /l/, so that real, reel and rill, which are distinct in most dialects of English, are homophones as [ɹɪw]. I don't normally enunciate "final-l" myself, and haven't done for over 60 years, so it's not exactly "recent". Apr 18 '18 at 13:28
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    Yes and isn't that trait heard in Cockney, Estuary, New Zealand and Australian English precisely because Australia and New Zealand were colonized with significan cohorts of Cockney and Estuary speakers. That would make it well established 200 years ago… May 5 '18 at 14:16
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The sound you have identified is sometimes called "dark l". It is represented by /ɫ/.

control - /kənˈtɹəʊɫ/

wall - /wɔːɫ/

Some accents contrast an "l" at the start of a syllable with an "l" at the end of a syllable.

In the chorus of Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2, there are several examples of both kinds of "l":

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone!

All in all, you're just another brick in the wall
All in all, you're just another brick in the wall

Here's the pronunciation of all the words with "l" in them, using Received Pronunciation as it's the closest to what the kids are singing:

control - /kənˈtɹəʊɫ/ (final)

classroom - /ˈklɑːsɹʊm/ (initial)

leave - /liːv/ (initial)

alone - /əˈləʊn/ (initial)

All in all - /ˈɔːlɪn.ˈɔːɫ/ (initial, then final)

wall - /wɔːɫ/ (final)

These are all easy to analyse except "all in all" which appears on the surface to be two isolated instances of "all", therefore both final. However, "all in" is pronounced as a single word, and is separated into syllables as /ˈɔːlɪn/, not /ɔːɫˈɪn/.

/w/, /j/, etc. are semi-vowels, and in this accent so is /ɫ/. So, not actually a vowel, but certainly with vowel-like qualities.

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  • This is an excellent answer. Are you aware of any dating of this phenomenon? @FumbleFingers commented that they’ve been doing this for the past six decades, so it could very well be this began one or more generations before them again. One source I could think of, Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of the Underworld, has no comments on pronunciation. It’s not far-fetched to assume this pronunciation did not stem from neither Queen’s English or RP, but rather from common, working-class people. But I’m merely assuming this. Have you any knowledge of this to add to your answer, it would be perfect.
    – Canned Man
    Nov 30 '19 at 15:03
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    @CannedMan I don't have any information on dating. I'd say it's very old as I see spelling evidence in several languages of /l/ having existed at some point in a particular word and being changed to /ɫ/. For example English "old" (Middle English "old", "ald", Old English "ald", "eald") is Dutch "oud" (Middle Dutch "out", Old Dutch "alt"), coming from the same source (Proto-Germanic "*aldaz"). I'd also say it's a natural progression, so should be predictable in the right environments.
    – CJ Dennis
    Dec 1 '19 at 1:05

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