Many will know that there are differences in AmE and BrE pronunciation of the words "solder" and "salve".

On the topic of "solder", there are already two questions here asking about the correct American pronunciation of "solder". Neither of these give a good answer explaining why, but there's at least one anecdote:

This doesn't come from a dictionary, but I had a relative who spent most of his free designing clever circuits (from the 1920s onwards).

He always told me that the correct British pronunciation was "sodder", but that over the years it had started to be pronounced "solder" - which he believed was to avoid the embarrassment of a word that could be misinterpreted as being related to sodomy when speaking to people who didn't have a background in electronics (or pipework!).
Answer by user Tim Wintle

Another answer by caxtontype gives the etymology from Merriam-Webster which suggests the introduction of the 'l' came about later:

Middle English soudure, from Anglo-French, from souder to solder, from Latin solidare to make solid, from solidus solid First Known Use: 14th century
Answer by caxtontype

There's no corroboration of the "sodomy" explanation or perhaps even the expression "sod it".

Regarding "solder", I would like to know if anyone has access to a BrE dictionary from about between 1800 to 1900. That way, if it provides pronunciation we can know whether the 'l' sound was added to "solder" fairly recently in BrE.

Another case of the Americans dropping the 'l' is in "salve":

1. (Medicine) an ointment for wounds, sores, etc
2. anything that heals or soothes
Collins English Dictionary

In BrE the pronunciation is given as "sælv" whereas in American the 'l' usually is dropped.

Wikipedia has some extensive information about the very common dropping of the 'l' during the Early Modern English period, that is, roughly the late 1400s to the the late 1600s:

  • Words with /alk/ and /olk/, which again followed the same pattern, but also dropped the /l/, so that words like chalk, talk and walk now have /ɔːk/, while folk and yolk rhyme with smoke.
  • Words with /alf/ or /alv/ (calf, half, halve), which simply lost the /l/ (the vowel of these is now /æ/ in General American and /ɑː/ in RP, by BATH-broadening). The word salve is often pronounced with the /l/; the name Ralph may be /rælf/, /rɑːlf/, /rɑːf/ or /reɪf/. Words like solve were not affected, although golf dropped the /l/ in some British accents.
  • Words with /alm/ and /olm/, which lost the /l/ and lengthened the vowel (the lengthened [oː] later becoming diphthongized in the toe–tow merger). Words like alms, balm, calm, Chalmers, qualm, palm and psalm now generally have /ɑː/ in the standard accents, while holm and Holmes are homophones of home(s). Some accents (including many of American English) have reintroduced the /l/ in these words as a spelling pronunciation. The word salmon generally retains a short vowel despite the loss of /l/.


The /l/ has also been lost in the words would and should.
Phonological history of English consonants

Regarding "salve", I would to know whether the American dropping of the 'l' is a result of the provenance of the British colonists and their accent/dialect. This is because evidently many of these changes didn't occur universally, that is, certain accents or dialects of English underwent certain of these changes during the Early Modern English period, and others didn't. The population of British colonists in 1688 was only 200,000.
Thirteen Colonies

So I would like to know if the explanation of the difference is that this small number of colonists came from English-speaking parts where the 'l' dropping phenomenon happened, whereas the majority of English speakers in Britain spoke English which wasn't affected by this loss of the 'l', and if that explains the current difference.

Edit: Just heard Bill Maher, American comedian pronounce "salve" with an 'L'. Video

  • I don't have an answer, but you could also look into French words of which the English spelling has a pronounced l where the French doesn't. Dauphin, etc. When did those words start containing an l and did the change in pronunciation coincide with the change in spelling.
    – Mr Lister
    Aug 19, 2018 at 9:33
  • @MrLister Yeah, French is an interesting case. French lost its 'L' character earlier than English, about 1100 to 1300. The 'L' became a 'U'. You can see this when comparing it with other Romance languages like Italian and Spanish: saltar/sauter (to jump), salvar/sauver (to save), salchicha/saucisson (sausage). I looked up "salve" in French and it gave me the words "baume" and "pommade". I hear the online OED is great for looking up histories, but you need a subscription, and I don't think I can get one without paying.
    – Zebrafish
    Aug 19, 2018 at 10:05
  • Etymonline says the l is a 15th century relatinisation
    – Chris H
    Aug 20, 2018 at 11:33


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