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special Icelandic problems
phonemes and allophones
There is only one lateral in English - the sound l in "lip, clip, milk"
So why plural - why "laterals"?
If you think about it, the l-sound in these three words is not the same - there are THREE l-sounds in English.
Here are some examples:
- Check section 2.4 in English Pronunciation for Icelanders - CD 2, tracks 21 - 25.
- There is a LIGHT l-sound in "lip" - to make it, try saying the KIT vowel AS YOU ARE PRONOUNCING the l.
This is the sound of l WHEN IT IS FOLLOWED BY A VOWEL.
- There is a DARK l-sound in "milk" - to make it, try say the LOT vowel AS YOU ARE PRONOUNCING THE l.
This is the sound of l WHEN IT IS NOT FOLLOWED BY A VOWEL.
- And there is an UNVOICED l in "clip" - to say it, you UNVOICE (or whisper) the l - sound.
This is the sound of l when it follows the sounds p or k just before a vowel in a stressed syllable.
REMEMBER our flowchart for deciding which -s inflection to use?
- LIGHT l when a vowel follows:
follow (remember: only one l in pronunciation!)
miller (remember: only one l in pronunciation!)
- DARK l when no vowel follows:
BUT: if the next word begins with a vowel, the final l in 'fall' and 'mill' becomes light, of course:
the mill isn't working
- UNVOICED l: after p or k beginning a stressed syllable:
please climb clear of the plank
BUT note that after sp- or sk- , l remains voiced:
The same sort of chart can be drawn up to explain which l-sound to use. It looks like this:
How is l pronounced? -
Problems for Icelanders
There are some major differences between the Icelandic and English laterals which Icelandic speakers need to bear in mind, since they are a prominent feature of "Icelandic English"!
LIGHT l and UNVOICED l are pretty much the same in both languages, and cause no trouble to Icelanders, - Icelandic uses a light l in front of vowels, and has an unvoiced l in the same place as English.
BUT: there is no dark l () in Icelandic - and what is worse, Icelandic uses an UNVOICED l in some places where English uses a dark l:
|lake (light l)
||leikur (light l)
|clip (unvoiced l)
||klippa (unvoiced l)
(* Not unvoiced in Northern Icelandic! But still not "dark" ...)
|tell (dark l)
||tel (unvoiced l)
|milk (dark l)
||mjólk (unvoiced l*)
So be particularly careful you're not using an unvoiced l in words like milk belt faulty pulp - everywhere, in fact, in front of a fortis plosive -
and at the end of words such as tall, fill, full, people
Phonemes and allophones
You may have noticed that dictionaries don't usually show these different pronunciations of l. They don't have to - the rules which decide which l is used are fixed, and speakers use them without noticing. The rules are UNCONSCIOUS, and most speakers of English feel they are using only one type of l.
We have seen examples of unconscious, automatic differences between sounds
before: we dealt with it when we were discussing PHONEMES and ALLOPHONES. So
what we are nowe saying is that these different realizations of l are
allophones of the phoneme l. To jog your memory, go back and re-read the
page on phonemes here .
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