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Is /l/ in 'whole' dark or clear?

I know that a clear (palatalised) /l/ is in a prevocalic position; nonetheless, I also know that the dark /l/ (velarised) is usually at the end of words.

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  • Why don't you think your second paragraph gives you an answer? – Peter Shor Apr 10 '20 at 15:21
  • @PeterShor hi and thank you for commenting! Well, because the / l / is both at the end of the word and in a prevocalic position – M.Ionut Apr 10 '20 at 15:22
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    The "e" on the end of whole is silent, so it doesn't count as a vowel for this; "prevocalic" here just means vowels that are pronounced. – Peter Shor Apr 10 '20 at 15:23
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    "Prevocalic position" refers to real pronounced vowels, not silent spelling letters. Whole is pronounced /hol/, with the /l/ at the end of the world. You can't do phonetics unless you're dealing with phones. Letters are just distractions. – John Lawler Apr 10 '20 at 15:24
  • @JohnLawler thank you so much! – M.Ionut Apr 10 '20 at 15:28
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Dark L or velarized L /ɫ/: If the L sound comes after the vowel or diphthong in a syllable, it will be a velar or dark L sound /ɫ/.

The dark L sound is really two sounds: a vowel sound + the L sound. After making the vowel sound, the tip of your tongue will rise up and press against the back of your top teeth in the same way as the light L sound. The dark L sound is a voiced sound, so your vocal cords will make the sound.

The dark L sound is often found in the middle or at the end of a word.

Examples: Bell, hell, whole, doll, circle etc.

As John Lawler says:

"Prevocalic position" refers to real pronounced vowels, not silent spelling letters. Whole is pronounced /hol/, with the /l/ at the end of the world. You can't do phonetics unless you're dealing with phones. Letters are just distractions.

The 'e' is silent in 'whole' and L is the final sound in the word so it's dark L (/ɫ/).

Light L sound /l/: If the L sound comes before the vowel or diphthong in a syllable, it will be a light L sound.

When you make the light L sound, the tip of your tongue will rise up and press against the back of your top teeth. The light L sound is a voiced sound, so your vocal cords will make the sound.

The light L sound is usually found at the beginning of a word.

Examples: Like, laugh, long, lip etc.

(Source)

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It depends on the accent, but it doesn't matter much because dark and clear /l/ are only allophones, not meaningfully different sounds in English.

In certain southern British English accents, "whole" would be pronounced with light /l/ before a word starting with a vowel, and with a dark /l/ before a word starting with a consonant.

In certain other accents, including some American accents, "whole" is always pronounced with dark l, even before a word starting with a vowel. (My accent follows this pattern for the use of dark l.)

Dark, light (or clear), and palatalized versions of /l/ form a range, so cutoff points are a bit arbitrary. That said, English phoneticians usually do not describe clear /l/ as a "palatalized" sound.

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    One can but wonder about your holy and holiday. – tchrist Apr 11 '20 at 3:06

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