Banner Portal
/l/ variation in american english


Corpus phonetics
Forced alignment

How to Cite

Yuan J, Liberman M. /l/ variation in american english: a corpus approach. J. of Speech Sci. [Internet]. 2021 Feb. 3 [cited 2023 Dec. 11];1(2):35-46. Available from:


We investigated the variation of /l/ in a large speech corpus through forced alignment. The results demonstrated that there is a categorical distinction between dark and light /l/ in American English. /l/ in syllable onset is light, and /l/ in syllable coda is dark. Intervocalic /l/ can be either light or dark, depending on the stress of the vowels. There is a correlation between duration (the rime duration and the duration of /l/) and /l/-darkness for dark /l/, but not for light /l/. Intervocalic dark /l/ is less dark than canonical syllable-coda /l/, but it is always dark, even in very short rimes. Intervocalic light /l/ is less light than canonical syllable-onset /l/, but it is always light. We argue that there are two levels of contrast in /l/ variation. The first level is determined by its affiliation to a single position in the syllable structure, and the second level is determined by its phonetic contexto.


Bailey, C. J. N. Gradience in English syllabication and a revised concept of unmarked syllabization. Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club; 1978.

Bermúdez-Otero, R. and Trousdale G. Cycles and continua: on unidirectionality and gradualness in language change. In T. Nevalainen and E. C. Traugott (Eds.), Handbook on the history of English: rethinking and extending approaches and methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press; forthcoming.

Bladon, R. A. W. and Al-Bamerni, A. Coarticulation resistance in English /l/. Journal of Phonetics 1976;4:137-50.

Borowsky, T. Topics in the lexical phonology of English [PhD thesis]. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, Amherst; 1986.

Browman, C. P. and Goldstein, L. Gestural syllable position effects in American English. In F. BellBerti and L. J. Raphael (Eds.), Producing speech: contemporary issues, Woodbury. NY: American Institute of Physics; 1995. pp.19-33.

Browman, C. P., and Goldstein, L. Articulatory phonology: an overview. Phonetica 1992;49:155-80.

Carter, P. (2003). Extrinsic phonetic interpretation: spectral variation in English liquids. In J. Local, R. Ogden and R. Temple (Eds.). Phonetic Interpretation: Papers in Laboratory Phonology VI. Cambridge: CUP; 2003. pp. 237-52.

Carter, P. and Local, J. F2 variation in Newcastle and Leeds English liquid systems. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 2007;37:183-99.

Chomsky, N. and Halle, M. The sound pattern of English. Cambridge: MIT Press; 1968.

Coleman, J. S. Discovering the acoustic correlates of phonological contrasts. Journal of Phonetics 2003;31:351-72.

Davis, S. and Mermelstein, P. Comparison of parametric representations for monosyllabic word recognition in continuously spoken sentences. IEEE Transactions on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing 1980;28:357-66.

Fallows, D. Experimental evidence for English syllabification and syllable structure. Journal of Linguistics 1981;17:309-17.

Fox, M. Usage-based effects in Latin American Spanish syllable-final /s/ lenition [PhD thesis]. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania; 2006.

Gick, B. Articulatory correlates of ambisyllabicity in English glides and liquids. In J. Local, R. Ogden and R. Temple (Eds.) Papers in laboratory phonology VI: constraints on phonetic interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2003. pp. 222-36.

Gick, B., F. Campbell, S. Oh and L. Tamburri-Watt. Toward universals in the gestural organization of syllables: A cross-linguistic study of liquids. Journal of Phonetics 2006,34:49-72.

Giles, S. B. and Moll, K. L. Cinefluorographic study of selected allophones of English /l/. Phonetica 1975;31:206-27.

Gussenhoven, C. English plosive allophones and ambisyllabicity. Gramma 1986;10:119-41.

Hawkins, S. and Nguyen, N. Influence of syllable-coda voicing on the acoustic properties of syllableonset /l/ in English. Journal of Phonetics 2004;32:199-231.

Hayes, B. Gradient well-formedness in optimality theory. In J. Dekkers, F. van der Leeuw, and J. van der Weijer (Eds.), Optimality Theory: phonology, syntax, and acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2000. pp. 88–120.

Hermansky, H. Perceptual linear predictive (PLP) analysis of speech. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 1990;87:1738-52.

Hoard, J. Aspiration, tenseness, and syllabification in English. Language 1971;47:133-40.

Hosom, J. P. Automatic time alignment of phonemes using acoustic-phonetic information [PhD thesis]. Portland: Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology; 2000.

Hosom, J. P. Speaker-independent phoneme alignment using transition-dependent states. Speech Communication 2009;51:352-68.

Huffman, M. K. Phonetic variation in intervocalic onset /l/'s in English. Journal of Phonetics 1997;25:115–41.

Jensen, J. T. Against ambisyllabicity. Phonology 2000;17:187-235.

Jones, D. The pronunciation of English. London: Cambridge University Press; 1966.

Kahn, D. Syllable-based generalizations in English phonology [PhD thesis]. Cambridge: MIT; 1976.

Kiparsky, P. Metrical structure assignment is cyclic. Linguistic Inquiry 1979;10:421-41.

Krakow, R. A. Physiological organization of syllables: a review. Journal of Phonetics 1999;27:23-54.

Krakow, R. A. The articulatory organization of syllables: a kinematic analysis of labial and velar gestures [PhD thesis]. New Haven: Yale University; 1989.

Ladefoged, P. A course in phonetics, 5th edition. Wadsworth Publishing; 2005.

Ladefoged, P. and Maddieson, I. The sounds of the world‟s languages. Oxford: Blackwell; 1996.

Lehiste, I. Acoustical characteristics of selected English consonants. Bloomington: Indiana University; 1964.

Narayanan, S., Alwan, A., and Haker. K. Toward articulatory-acoustic models for liquid consonants based on MRI and EPG data. Part I: The laterals. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 1997;101:1064-77.

Olive, J., Greenwood, A. and Coleman, J. Acoustics of American English: A Dynamic Approach. New York: Springer; 1993.

Prince, A. S. and Smolensky, P. Optimality Theory: constraint interaction in generative grammar. Oxford: Blackwell; 2004.

Pulgram, E. Syllable, word, nexus, cursus. The Hague: Mouton; 1970.

Rubach, J. Shortening and ambisyllabicity in English. Phonology 1996;13:197-237.

Scobbie, J. and Pouplier, M. The role of syllable structure in external sandhi: An EPG study of vocalisation and retraction in word-final English /l/. Journal of Phonetics 2010;38:240-59.

Selkirk, E. O. The syllable. In H. van der Hulst and N. Smith (Eds.), The structure of phonological representations, Part 2. Dordrecht: Foris; 1982. pp. 337-83.

Sproat, R. and Fujimura, O. Allophonic variation in English /1/ and its implications for phonetic implementation. Journal of Phonetics 1993;21:291–311.

Treiman, R. and Danis, C. (1988). Syllabification of intervocalic consonants. Journal of Memory and Language, 27, 87-104.

Turk, A. Articulatory phonetic cues to syllable affiliation: Gestural characteristics of bilabial stops,” In P. Keating (Ed.), Phonological structure and phonetic form: papers in laboratory phonology III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1994. pp. 107-35.

Wightman, C. and Talkin, D. The Aligner: Text to speech alignment using Markov Models. In J. van Santen, R. Sproat, J. Olive, and J. Hirschberg (Eds.), Progress in Speech Synthesis. New York: Springer Verlag; 1997. pp. 313-23.

Yuan, J. and Liberman, M. Automatic detection of “g-dropping” in American English. Proceedings of Automatic Speech Recognition and Understanding Workshop 2011; forthcoming.

Yuan, J. and Liberman, M. Investigating /l/ variation in English through forced alignment. Proceedings of Interspeech 2009. pp. 2215-18.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2011 Jiahong Yuan, Mark Liberman


Download data is not yet available.