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Most of us have heard plenty of examples of the so-called Intrusive-R. It is a feature of non-rhotic dialects, including British RP and some New England dialects. It occurs between two vowels that are normally articulated, such as a vowel ending one word followed immediately by a vowel beginning another word, presumably to avoid having to produce a glottal (or other) stop. Or, according to Wikipedia:

The phenomenon of intrusive R is an overgeneralizing reinterpretation[10][11] of linking R into an r-insertion rule that affects any word that ends in the non-high vowels /ə/, /ɪə/, /ɑː/, or /ɔː/;[12] when such a word is closely followed by another word beginning in a vowel sound, an /r/ is inserted between them, even when no final /r/ was historically present.[13] For example, the phrase bacteria in it would be pronounced /bækˈtɪəriərˌɪnɪt/. The epenthetic /r/ can be inserted to prevent hiatus, two consecutive vowel sounds

That passage goes on to note one of the more famous examples, which occurs in the second verse of The Beatles' song "A Day in the Life" as John Lennon sings:

I saw[r]a film today oh boy
The English Army had just won the war

Instances of this phenomenon are legion and, as far as I am aware, uncontroversial. Nevertheless, I have recently noted instances, in the speech of a woman I know, of what can only be called Intrusive-L, because it occurs in the same place and the same circumstances as Intrusive-R.

For example, the other day she described her children, as she watched them on an amusement park ride, like this:

And I saw[l]'em waving at me as they went by.

Now, she could merely have said "saw them" instead of trying to produce "saw 'em" and the problem would have been obviated, but that's not what happened. There have been other instances as well. Note that she never mixes up /r/ and /l/ in speech, as some people do. She grew up in Southern California, by the way.

My question is this: Is this merely the product of her own idiolect, or is Intrusive-L actually a recognized feature of some dialect(s)?

Note: I went looking for it, but searches for Intrusive-L all seem to assume I really mean Intrusive-R and only return articles about that well-known feature.

A resolution

Based on the evidence in Araucaria's excellent answer I pursued the matter a bit further, contacting the woman and asking her if other family members produced the same intrusive-l sound in everyday speech. She said her mother and grandmother both do. And where is that branch of the family from? Why, Pennsylvania just west of Philadelphia.

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Short answer

Yes, there are varieties of English that use linking and intrusive l in a similar way to how other non-rhotic varieties use linking and intrusive r.

  • spa /spa:/
  • is /ɪz/
  • the spa is /ðə spɑ:r ɪz/ "the spar is" (intrusive r)
  • the spa is /ðə spɑ:l ɪz/ "the spal is" (intrusive l)

The examples above show some similarity between linking r and linking l. However, the two are not necessarily quite as similar as they might seem.

Full answer

There has for some time now been interest in the occurrence of intrusive-l a feature of some varieties of English from the north-east of the US. Strangely, although now reasonably well-documented, it is more often seen discussed in the literature because of the light it may throw on the phonological structure of intrusive-r in other varieties, whose distribution it follows in important respects.

Below is a relevant excerpt from an already old paper: Gick, B. (1999) 'A gesture-based account of intrusive consonants in English'. Phonology 16, pp. 29-54:

3 Intrusive l and other l phenomena

3.1 l-vocalisation, linking and intrusion

The intrusive l (see (5)) is a surprisingly widespread phenomenon, showing patterns similar to those seen in the intrusive r. Its use has been primarily identified with working class and rural dialects in Pennsylvania, Delaware and other areas of the northeastern United States, though it has been reported in all other regions of the country except the Northwest. The few references to the intrusive l to date have all been made in unpublished works (Gick 1991, 1997, in preparation, Miller 1993).

(5) The intrusive l of south-central Pennsylvania

I draw [dɹɔ:ʁ] --> 2 I’m drawing [dɹɔ:lɪŋ]

the bra [bɹɑ:] --> 2. the bra is [bɹɑ:lɪz]

The intrusive l, like the intrusive r, can be described as the presence of a non-historical consonant between two vowels, the first of which belongs to a limited set always including /ɔ/, and very rarely /a/ and /ə/ as well. Also reminiscent of the intrusive r is the hierarchy of related processes associated with l-intrusion, which is fixed in the familiar order of vocalisation, linking and intrusion.

As with r, the historical vocalisation of some pre-consonantal coda /l/'s is evident from orthographic artefacts in such words as half, salve, salmon, talk, calm, folk, etc. In some dialects, however, this process has extended to all coda /l/'s (e.g. drawl [dɹɔ:l]). Ash (1982a) says of certain Philadelphia-area dialects : 'the vocalisation of /l/ results from the loss of contact between the tongue and the palate', a description of l-vocalisation that is well documented for many English dialects (Giles & Moll 1975, Kahn 1976 : 58, 104—105, Ash 1982a, b, Hardcastle & Barry 1989, Brow-man & Goldstein 1995 : 26—27, Narayanan et al. 1997 : 1070).

Again parallelling the patterns of r, in most /l/-vocalising dialects, a brighter allophone of /l/ (one involving a greater tongue tip constriction, among other things) may be heard in intervocalic positions (e.g. drawling [dɹɔ:lɪŋ]). That is, most dialects with vocalisation of/l/ also show linking (see Ash 1982b for an exceptional dialect).

Finally, in some dialects having both vocalisation and linking, as with intrusive r, an [l] can appear intervocalically when a vowel-final word or stem is followed by another vowel. Also similar to the r case, as stated above, the intrusive l may appear following only a very limited set of vowels.

[pp. 35-36]


Gick's 2002 paper The American Intrusive l is downloadable here, if you have an Academia.edu account, or sign up for one. It's free.

  • 2
    Thank you, and from what you provide here I'm surprised this has never before broken the surface of my awareness. – Robusto Nov 18 at 17:21
  • 1
    Please see the addendum to my question, which describes a further pursuit based on your answer. – Robusto Nov 18 at 20:02
  • @Robusto Thanks for that info. I love it when that kind of thing happens :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 19 at 13:05
  • It is more likely to be: saw lem and not saw[l] 'em. Ergo, there is no intrusion, there is substitution... – Lambie Nov 20 at 18:58
12

I was not aware of /l/ being ever used in the way /r/ is in RP to link two words ending and beginning with a vocalic sound respectively until I read Araucaria's answer. In any event, it might be worth quoting J. C. Wells at length on so-called Bristol l, even though it is not a sandhi phenomenon.

Here is the relevant excerpt from Accents of English (Vol.2, pp.344-345):

Bristol is the home of another famous consonantal characteristic, Intrusive /l/. This consists in the addition of /l/ to words which would otherwise end in /ə/(e.g. banana, tomorrow: i.e. words belonging to the standard lexical set commA, or those ending in RP unstressed /əu/; but those belonging to lettER, of course, have /-ər/). This makes area a homophone of aerial [ˈɛ:ɹjəɫ]. Intrusive /l/ is not a sandhi phenomenon: it can apply equally to a word which is sentence-final or in isolation, and it varies allophonically between clear and dark according as the following segment is or is not a vowel.

It has given rise to many jokes. Bristol is 'the only city in Britain to be able to turn ideas into ideals, areas into areals, and Monicas into monocles', where a father had ' three lovely daughters, Idle, Evil and Normal', where a local girl learning to dance was heard to say 'I can rumble and tangle' (quotations from Dirk Robinson, Son of Bristle. Bristol: Abson Books). Thus derided and stigmatized, Intrusive /l/ seems always to have been a pretty local phenomenon, not occurring beyond the boundaries of Avon; even within them it is by now quite rare. Its origin must presumably lie in hypercorrection after the loss of final /l/ after /ə/, a hypothesized [ˈæpə] for apple. When the /l/ was restored under pressure from standard accents, it was added analogically to all words ending in [ə]. Bristol itself was once Bristow.

Wells has a blog entry on this (http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2010/01/bristol-liquids.html#comment-form). Some of the comments, presumably by speakers of American English, further remark on the phenomenon.

One commenter writes the following:

(…) In passing, thought I'd mention that I once had a client from northern New Jersey who could not say idea without turning it into ideal. Came out of left field - it's not a feature of the local accent to my knowledge.

To which another one responds:

I've heard that quite a lot actually. I used to pronounce "idea" as "ideal" when I was younger and some of my cousins did too (we're American, btw). I remember how our grandma would remark on that and tell us how it was "wrong". She probably thought it was our parents' fault. It seems like a pronunciation that some people (like me) "grow out of" and others (like your client) don't. I don't why that happens, but it does.

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