Voiced dental, alveolar and postalveolar lateral approximants

Voiced alveolar lateral approximant
IPA Number 155
Entity (decimal) l
Unicode (hex) U+006C
Braille ⠇ (braille pattern dots-123)
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Voiced postalveolar lateral approximant
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Voiced dental lateral approximant
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The voiced alveolar lateral approximant is a type of consonantal sound used in many spoken languages. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents dental, alveolar, and postalveolar lateral approximants is ⟨l⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is l.

As a sonorant, lateral approximants are nearly always voiced. Voiceless lateral approximants, /l̥/ are common in Sino-Tibetan languages, but uncommon elsewhere. In such cases, voicing typically starts about halfway through the hold of the consonant. No language is known to contrast such a sound with a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative [ɬ].

In a number of languages, including most varieties of English, the phoneme /l/ becomes velarized ("dark l") in certain contexts. By contrast, the non-velarized form is the "clear l" (also known as: "light l"), which occurs before and between vowels in certain English standards.[1] Some languages have only clear l.[2] Others may not have a clear l at all, or have them only before front vowels (especially [i]).


Features of the voiced alveolar lateral approximant:

  • Its manner of articulation is approximant, which means it is produced by narrowing the vocal tract at the place of articulation, but not enough to produce a turbulent airstream.
  • There are four specific variants of [l]:
    • Dental, which means it is articulated with either the tip or the blade of the tongue at the upper teeth, termed respectively apical and laminal.
    • Denti-alveolar, which means it is articulated with the blade of the tongue at the alveolar ridge, and the tip of the tongue behind upper teeth.
    • Alveolar, which means it is articulated with either the tip or the blade of the tongue at the alveolar ridge, termed respectively apical and laminal.
    • Postalveolar, which means it is articulated with either the tip or the blade of the tongue behind the alveolar ridge, termed respectively apical and laminal.
  • Its phonation is voiced, which means the vocal cords vibrate during the articulation.
  • It is an oral consonant, which means air is allowed to escape through the mouth only.
  • It is a lateral consonant, which means it is produced by directing the airstream over the sides of the tongue, rather than down the middle.
  • The airstream mechanism is pulmonic, which means it is articulated by pushing air solely with the lungs and diaphragm, as in most sounds.


Languages may have clear apical or laminal alveolars, laminal denti-alveolars (such as French), or true dentals, which are uncommon. Laminal denti-alveolars tend to occur in Continental languages.[3] However, a true dental generally occurs allophonically before /θ/ in languages that have it, as in English health.

Dental or denti-alveolar

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Arabic Gulf[4] لين/leen [l̪eːn] 'when' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Arabic phonology
Hungarian[5] elem [ˈɛl̪ɛm] 'battery' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Hungarian phonology
Italian[6][7][8] molto [ˈmol̪ːt̪o] 'much, a lot' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ before /t, d, s, z, t͡s, d͡z/.[6][7][8] See Italian phonology
Macedonian[9] лево/levo [l̪e̞vo̞] 'left' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Macedonian phonology
Mapudungun[10] afkeṉ [l̪ɐ̝fkën̪] 'sea, lake' Interdental.[10]
Norwegian Urban East[11] anlegg [²ɑnːl̪ɛg] 'plant (industrial)' Allophone of /l/ after /n, t, d/.[11] See Norwegian phonology
Spanish[12] altar [äl̪ˈt̪äɾ] 'altar' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ before /t/, /d/. See Spanish phonology
Swedish Central Standard[13] allt [äl̪t̪] 'everything' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Swedish phonology
Tamil[14] புலி/puli [pul̪i] 'tiger' See Tamil phonology
Uzbek[15] [example needed] Laminal denti-alveolar. Velarized between a non-front rounded vowel and a consonant or juncture phoneme.[15]
Vietnamese Hanoi[16] lửa [l̪ɨə˧˩˧] 'fire' See Vietnamese phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Arabic Standard[17] لا‎/laa [laː] 'no' See Arabic phonology
Armenian Eastern[18] լուսին/lusin About this sound[lusin]  'moon'
Assyrian ܠܚܡܐ läḳma [lεxma] ‘bread’
Catalan[19][20] tela [ˈt̪ɛlə] 'fabric' Apical 'front alveolar'.[19][20] May also be velarized.[21] See Catalan phonology
Chuvash хула [хu'la] 'city'
Dutch Standard[22] laten [ˈl̻aːt̻ə] 'to let' Laminal. Some Standard Belgian speakers use the clear /l/ in all positions.[22] See Dutch phonology
Some Eastern accents[23] mal [mɑl̻] 'mold' Laminal; realization of /l/ in all positions.[23] See Dutch phonology
English New York[24] let [lɛt] 'let' Varies between apical and laminal, with the latter being predominant.[24]
Irish, Geordie[25] tell [tɛl] 'tell'
Esperanto luno [ˈluno] 'moon' See Esperanto phonology
Filipino luto [ˈluto] 'cook' See Filipino phonology
Greek λέξη/léksi [ˈleksi] 'word' See Modern Greek phonology
Italian[6][26][27] letto [ˈlɛt̪ːo] 'bed' Apical.[7] See Italian phonology
Japanese / roku [lo̞kɯ̟ᵝ] 'six' Apical.[28] More commonly [ɾ]. See Japanese phonology
Kashubian[29] [example needed]
Kyrgyz[30] көпөлөк/köpölök [køpøˈløk] 'butterfly' Velarized in back vowel contexts. See Kyrgyz phonology
Korean / il [il] 'one' or 'work' Realized as alveolar tap ɾ in the beginning of a syllable. See Korean phonology.
Mapudungun[10] elun [ëˈlʊn] 'to give'
Nepali लामो [lämo] 'long' See Nepali phonology
Odia[31] [bʰɔlɔ] 'good'
Persian لاما‎/lama [lɒmɒ] 'llama' See Persian phonology
Polish[32] pole About this sound[ˈpɔlɛ]  'field' Contrasts with /ɫ/ for a small number of speakers; when it does, it is always palatalized [lʲ]. See Polish phonology
Romanian[33] alună [äˈlun̪ə] 'hazelnut' Apical. See Romanian phonology
Scottish Gaelic[34] maoil [mɯːl] 'headland' Contrasts with /ɫ̪/ and /ʎ/. See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Slovak[35] mĺkvy About this sound[ˈml̩ːkʋi]  'silent' Syllabic form can be long or short. See Slovak phonology
Slovene[36] letalo [lɛˈt̪àːlɔ] 'airplane' See Slovene phonology
Spanish[37] hablar [äˈβ̞läɾ] 'to speak' See Spanish phonology
Welsh diafol [djavɔl] 'devil' See Welsh phonology
Ukrainian[38] обличчя/oblychchya [oˈblɪt͡ʃːɐ] 'face' Contrasts with palatalized form. See Ukrainian phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Igbo Standard[39] lì [l̠ì] 'bury'
Italian[7] il cervo [il̠ʲ ˈt͡ʃɛrvo] 'the deer' Palatalized laminal; allophone of /l/ before /ʃ, t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/.[7] See Italian phonology
Turkish[40][41] lale About this sound[l̠ʲäːˈl̠ʲɛ]  'tulip' Palatalized; contrasts with a velarized dental lateral [ɫ̪].[40][41] See Turkish phonology
Zapotec Tilquiapan[42] lan [l̠an] 'soot'


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Faroese[43] linur [ˈliːnʊɹ] 'soft' Varies between dental and alveolar in initial position, whereas the postvocalic /l/ may be postalveolar, especially after back vowels.[43] See Faroese phonology
French[44] il [il] 'he' Varies between laminal denti-alveolar and apical alveolar, with the latter being predominant.[44] See French phonology
German Standard[45] Liebe [ˈliːbə] 'love' Varies between denti-alveolar, laminal alveolar and apical alveolar.[45]
Norwegian Urban East[46] liv [liːʋ] 'life' In process of changing from laminal denti-alveolar to apical alveolar, but the laminal denti-alveolar is still possible in some environments, and is obligatory after /n, t, d/.[46] See Norwegian phonology
Portuguese Most Brazilian dialects,[47][48][49] some EP speakers[50] lero-lero [ˈlɛɾʊ ˈlɛɾʊ] 'runaround'[51] Clear, dental to sometimes alveolar.[52] Only occurs in syllable onset, with l-vocalization widely occurring in coda. Sometimes found before front vowels only in the European variety. See Portuguese phonology.
Lituânia About this sound[l̪it̪uˈɐ̃ɲ̟ɐ]  'Lithuania'

Velarized alveolar lateral approximant

Velarized L
IPA Number 209
Entity (decimal) l​ˠ
Unicode (hex) U+006C U+02E0
X-SAMPA 5 or l_G or l_?\
Audio sample
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The velarized alveolar lateral approximant (a.k.a. dark l) is a type of consonantal sound used in some languages. It is an alveolar, denti-alveolar, or dental lateral approximant, with a secondary articulation of velarization or pharyngealization. The regular symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represent this sound are ⟨⟩ (for a velarized lateral) and ⟨⟩ (for a pharyngealized lateral), though the dedicated letter ⟨ɫ⟩, which covers both velarization and pharyngealization, is perhaps more common. The latter should never be confused with ⟨ɬ⟩, which represents the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative. However, some scholars use that symbol to represent the velarized alveolar lateral approximant anyway[53] – though such usage is considered non-standard.

If the sound is dental or denti-alveolar, one could use a dental diacritic to indicate so: ⟨l̪ˠ⟩, ⟨l̪ˤ⟩, ⟨ɫ̪⟩.

Velarization and pharyngealization are generally associated with more dental articulations of coronal consonants, so dark l tends to be dental or denti-alveolar. Clear (non-velarized) l tends to be retracted to an alveolar position.[54]

The term dark l is often synonymous with hard l, especially in Slavic languages. (Cf. Hard consonants)


Features of the dark l:


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Bashkir ҡала/qala About this sound[qɑˈɫɑ]  'city' Velarized dental lateral; occurs in back vowel contexts.
Belarusian[55] Беларусь/belarus' [bʲɛɫ̪äˈruɕ] 'Belarus' Laminal denti-alveolar; contrasts with palatalized form. See Belarusian phonology
Catalan[21][56] altres [ˈaɫ̪t̪ɾəs̺] 'others' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ before /t, d/.[56] See Catalan phonology
Classical Armenian[21][56] ղեկ/ġek [ɫɛk] 'rudder'
Icelandic[57] sigldi [s̺ɪɫ̪t̪ɪ] 'sailed' Laminal denti-alveolar; rare. See Icelandic phonology
Kashubian Older southeastern speakers[29] [example needed] Laminal denti-alveolar; realized as [w] by other speakers.[29]
Lithuanian[58] labas [ˈɫ̪äːbɐs̪] 'hi' Laminal denti-alveolar; contrasts with palatalized form. See Lithuanian phonology
Macedonian[59] лук
[ɫ̪uk] 'garlic' Laminal denti-alveolar. Present only before back vowels (/u, o, a/) and syllable-finally. See Macedonian phonology
Norwegian Urban East[58][11] tale [ˈt̻ʰɑːɫ̪ə] 'speech' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ after /ɔ, oː, ɑ, ɑː/, and sometimes also after /u, uː/.[11] However, according to Endresen (1990), this allophone is not velarized.[60] See Norwegian phonology
Polish Eastern dialects[32] and conservative standard pronunciation łapa [ˈɫ̪äpä] 'paw' Laminal denti-alveolar. Corresponds to /w/ in other varieties. See Polish phonology
Russian[61] малый/malyy [ˈmɑ̟ɫ̪ɨ̞j] 'small' Pharyngealized laminal denti-alveolar. See Russian phonology
Scottish Gaelic[62] Mallaig [ˈmäʊɫ̪ækʲ] 'Mallaig' Contrasts with /l/ and /ʎ/. See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Turkish[40][41] lala [ɫ̪äˈɫ̪ä] 'servant' Laminal denti-alveolar; contrasts with a palatalized postalveolar lateral [].[40][41] See Turkish phonology
Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Afrikaans Standard[63][64] tafel [ˈtɑːfəɫ] 'table' Velarized in all positions, especially non-prevocalically.[63][64] See Afrikaans phonology
Albanian Standard llullë [ˈɫuɫə] 'smoking pipe'
Arabic Standard[65] اللهʼAllah [ʔɑɫˈɫɑːh] 'God' Also transcribed as ⟨⟩. Many accents and dialects lack the sound and instead pronounce [l]. See Arabic phonology
Catalan[21] Eastern dialects cel·la [ˈsɛɫːə] 'cell' Apical. Can be always dark in many dialects. See Catalan phonology
Western dialects alt [aɫ(t)] 'tall'
Dutch Standard[66] mallen [ˈmɑɫ̻ə] 'molds' Laminal; pharyngealized in northern accents, velarized or post-palatalised in southern accents. It is an allophone of /l/ before consonants and pauses, and also prevocalically when after the open back vowels /ɔ, ɑ/. Many northern speakers realize the final /l/ as a strongly pharyngealised vocoid [ɤˤ], whereas some Standard Belgian speakers use the clear /l/ in all positions.[66] See Dutch phonology
Some Netherlandic accents[23] laten [ˈɫ̻aːt̻ə] 'to let' Pharyngealized laminal; realization of /l/ in all positions.[23] See Dutch phonology
English[67] Australian feel About this sound [fiːɫ]  'feel' Most often apical; can be always dark in Australia and New Zealand. See Australian English phonology and English phonology
General American
New Zealand
Received Pronunciation
South African
Scottish loch [ɫɔx] 'loch' Can be always dark except in some borrowings from Scottish Gaelic
Greek Northern dialects[68] μπάλα lla [ˈbaɫa] 'ball' Allophone of /l/ before /a o u/. See Modern Greek phonology
Kurdish Sorani lta [gɑːɫˈtʲaː] 'joke' See Kurdish phonology
Romanian Bessarabian dialect[69] cal [kaɫ] 'horse' Corresponds to non-velarized l[in which environments?] in standard Romanian. See Romanian phonology
Serbo-Croatian[70] лак / lak [ɫâ̠k] 'easy' Apical; may be syllabic; contrasts with /ʎ/. See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Uzbek[15] [example needed] Apical; between a non-front rounded vowel and a consonant or juncture phoneme. Non-velarized denti-alveolar elsewhere.[15]
Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Portuguese European[71] mil [miɫ̪] 'thousand' Dental and strongly velarized in all environments for most speakers, though less so before front vowels.[72][50]
Older and conservative Brazilian[73][74][75][76] álcool [ˈäɫ̪ko̞ɫ̪] 'alcohol, ethanol' When [lˠ ~ lʶ ~ lˤ ~ lˀ],[77] most often dental. Coda is now vocalized to [ ~ ʊ̯] in most of Brazil (as in EP in rural parts of Alto Minho and Madeira).[78] Stigmatized realizations such as [ɾ ~ ɽ ~ ɻ], the /ʁ/ range, [j] and even [∅] (zero) are some other coda allophones typical of Brazil.[79] See Portuguese phonology

See also