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Laterals    

           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: REMEMBER our flowchart for deciding which -s inflection to use?
The same sort of chart can be drawn up to explain which l-sound to use. It looks like this:

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.
Compare:

English Icelandic
lake (light l) leikur (light l)
clip (unvoiced l) klippa (unvoiced l)
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:
English Icelandic
tell (dark l) tel (unvoiced l)
milk (dark l) mjólk (unvoiced l*)
(* Not unvoiced in Northern Icelandic! But still not "dark" ...)

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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If you have any questions mail me at peturk@hi.is.