Dental, alveolar and postalveolar lateral approximants

For consonants followed by superscript ˡ, see Lateral release (phonetics).
Alveolar lateral approximant
IPA number 155
Entity (decimal) l
Unicode (hex) U+006C
Kirshenbaum l
Braille ⠇ (braille pattern dots-123)
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Postalveolar lateral approximant
Dental lateral approximant

The alveolar lateral approximant is a type of consonantal sound used in some 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 in certain contexts, a sound often called "dark l". Some languages, like many North American dialects of English, may not have a "clear" /l/ at all, or use it only before front vowels (especially [i]).


Features of the voiced alveolar lateral approximant:


Languages may have clear apical or laminal alveolars (such as Bulgarian, which has both), laminal denti-alveolars (such as French), or true dentals, which are uncommon. 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[1] لين [l̪eːn] 'when' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Arabic phonology
Hungarian[2] elem [ˈɛl̪ɛm] 'battery' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Hungarian phonology
Italian[3][4][5] molto [ˈmol̪ːt̪o] 'much, a lot' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ before /t, d, s, z, t͡s, d͡z/.[3][4][5] See Italian phonology
Macedonian[6] лево [l̪e̞vo̞] 'left' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Macedonian phonology
Mapudungun[7] afkeṉ [l̪ɐ̝fkën̪] 'sea, lake' Interdental.[7]
Norwegian Standard Eastern[8] anlegg [²ɑnːl̪ɛg] 'plant (industrial)' Allophone of /l/ after /n, t, d/.[8] See Norwegian phonology
Swedish Central Standard[9] allt [äl̪t̪] 'everything' Laminal denti-alveolar. See Swedish phonology
Tamil[10] புலி [pul̪i] 'tiger' See Tamil phonology
Uzbek[11] Laminal denti-alveolar. Velarized between a non-front rounded vowel and a consonant or juncture phoneme.[11]
Vietnamese Hanoi[12] lửa [l̪ɨə˧˩˧] 'fire' See Vietnamese phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Arabic Standard[13] لا [laː] 'no' See Arabic phonology
Armenian Eastern[14] լուսին  [lusin]  'moon'
Catalan[15][16] tela [ˈt̪ɛlə] 'fabric' Apical 'front alveolar'.[15][16] May also be velarized.[17] See Catalan phonology
Dutch Standard[18] laten [ˈl̻aːt̻ə] 'to let' Laminal. Some Standard Belgian speakers use the clear /l/ in all positions.[18] See Dutch phonology
Some Eastern accents[19] mal [mɑl̻] 'mold' Laminal; realization of /l/ in all positions.[19] See Dutch phonology
English Most speakers let [lɛt] 'let' See English phonology
New York[20] Varies between apical and laminal, with the latter being predominant.[20]
Italian[3][21][22] letto [ˈlɛt̪ːo] 'bed' Apical.[4] See Italian phonology
Kyrgyz[24] көпөлөк [køpøˈløk] 'butterfly' Velarized in back vowel contexts. See Kyrgyz phonology
Mapudungun[7] elun [ëˈlʊn] 'to give'
Polish[25] pole  [ˈpɔlɛ]  'field' Contrasts with /ɫ/ for a small number of speakers; when it does, it is always palatalized [lʲ]. See Polish phonology
Romanian[26] alună [äˈlun̪ə] 'hazelnut' Apical. See Romanian phonology
Slovak[27] mĺkvy  [ˈml̩ːkʋi]  'silent' Syllabic form can be long or short. See Slovak phonology
Slovene[28] letalo [lɛˈt̪àːlɔ] 'airplane' See Slovene phonology
Spanish[29] hablar [äˈβ̞läɾ] 'to speak' See Spanish phonology
Ukrainian[30] обличчя [oˈblɪt͡ʃːɐ] 'face' Contrasts with palatalized form. See Ukrainian phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Igbo Standard[31] lì [l̠ì] 'bury'
Italian[4] il cervo [il̠ʲ ˈt͡ʃɛrvo] 'the deer' Palatalized laminal; allophone of /l/ before /ʃ, t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/.[4] See Italian phonology
Turkish[32][33] lale  [l̠ʲäːˈl̠ʲɛ]  'tulip' Palatalized; contrasts with a velarized dental lateral [ɫ̪].[32][33] See Turkish phonology
Zapotec Tilquiapan[34] lan [l̠an] 'soot'


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Faroese[35] linur [ˈliːnʊɹ] 'soft' Varies between dental and alveolar in initial position, whereas the postvocalic /l/ may be postalveolar, especially after back vowels.[35] See Faroese phonology
French[36] il [il] 'he' Varies between laminal denti-alveolar and apical alveolar, with the latter being predominant.[36] See French phonology
German Standard[37] Liebe [ˈliːbə] 'love' Varies between laminal denti-alveolar, laminal alveolar and apical alveolar.[37] See Standard German phonology
Norwegian Standard Eastern[38] 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/.[38] See Norwegian phonology
Portuguese Most Brazilian dialects[39][40] lero-lero [ˈlɛɾu ˈlɛɾu] 'runaround'[41] Dental to sometimes alveolar, always co-articulated in other dialects.[42] See Portuguese phonology

Velarized alveolar lateral approximant

Dark L
IPA number 209
Entity (decimal) lˠ
Unicode (hex) U+006CU+02E0
X-SAMPA 5 or l_G or l_?\
Kirshenbaum l<vzd>
source · help

The velarized alveolar lateral approximant (dark l) is a type of consonantal sound used in some spoken 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 last symbol should never be confused with l, which represents the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative. However, some scholars[43] use that symbol to represent the velarized alveolar lateral approximant anyway - 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 while clear l tends to be retracted to an alveolar position.[44]


Features of the dark l:


Dental or denti-alveolar

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Belarusian[45] Беларусь [bʲɛɫ̪äˈrus̪ʲ] 'Belarus' Laminal denti-alveolar; contrasts with palatalized form. See Belarusian phonology
Catalan[17][46] altres [ˈaɫ̪t̪ɾəs̺] 'others' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ before /t, d/.[46] See Catalan phonology
Icelandic[47] sigldi [s̺ɪɫ̪t̪ɪ] 'sailed' Laminal denti-alveolar; rare. See Icelandic phonology
Kashubian Older southeastern speakers[23] Laminal denti-alveolar; realized as [w] by other speakers.[23]
Lithuanian[48] labas [ˈɫ̪äːbɐs̪] 'hi' Laminal denti-alveolar; contrasts with palatalized form. See Lithuanian phonology
Macedonian[49] лук
[ɫ̪uk] 'garlic' Laminal denti-alveolar. Present only before back vowels (/u, o, a/) and syllable-finally. See Macedonian phonology
Norwegian Standard Eastern[48][8] tale [ˈt̻ʰɑːɫ̪ə] 'speech' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ after /ɔ, oː, ɑ, ɑː/, and sometimes also after /u, uː/.[8] However, according to Endresen (1990), this allophone is not velarized.[50] See Norwegian phonology
Polish Eastern dialects[25] łapa [ˈɫ̪äpä] 'paw' Laminal denti-alveolar. Corresponds to /w/ in standard Polish. See Polish phonology
Russian[51] малый [ˈmɑ̟ɫ̪ɨ̞j] 'small' Pharyngealized laminal denti-alveolar. See Russian phonology
Scottish Gaelic[52] Mallaig [ˈmäʊɫ̪ækʲ] 'Mallaig' See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Turkish[32][33] lala [ɫ̪äˈɫ̪ä] 'servant' Laminal denti-alveolar; contrasts with a palatalized postalveolar lateral [].[32][33] See Turkish phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Afrikaans Standard[53][54] tafel [ˈtɑːfəɫ] 'table' Velarized in all positions, especially non-prevocalically.[53][54] See Afrikaans phonology
Albanian Standard llullë [ˈɫuɫə] 'smoking pipe'
Arabic Standard[55] الله ʼAllah [ʔɑˈɫːɑːh] 'God' Also transcribed as . Many accents and dialects lack the sound and instead pronounce [ɬ]. See Arabic phonology
Catalan[17] 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[56] 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.[56] See Dutch phonology
Some Netherlandic accents[19] laten [ˈɫ̻aːt̻ə] 'to let' Pharyngealized laminal; realization of /l/ in all positions.[19] See Dutch phonology
English[57] Australian feel   [fiːɫ]  'feel' Most often apical; can be always dark in North America, 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[58] μπάλα lla [ˈbaɫa] 'ball' Allophone of /l/ before /a o u/. See Modern Greek phonology
Romanian Bessarabian dialect[59] cal [kaɫ] 'horse' Corresponds to non-velarized l in standard Romanian. See Romanian phonology
Serbo-Croatian[60] лак / lak [ɫâ̠k] 'easy' Apical; may be syllabic; contrasts with /ʎ/. See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Uzbek[11] Apical; between a non-front rounded vowel and a consonant or juncture phoneme. Non-velarized denti-alveolar elsewhere.[11]


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Portuguese European[61] mil [miɫ̪] 'thousand' When [lˠ ~ lʶ ~ lˤ ~ lˀ],[62] most often dental. Coda is now vocalized to [ ~ ʊ̯] in most of Brazil (as in rural parts of Alto Minho and Madeira).[63] Stigmatized realizations such as [ɾ ~ ɽ ~ ɻ], the /ʁ/ range, [j] and even [∅] (zero) are some other coda allophones typical of Brazil.[64] Can be always dental and always dark (especially before back/rounded and close/unrounded vowels) in most dialects. See Portuguese phonology
Most dialects[65] Lituânia  [ɫ̪it̪uˈɐ̃ɲ̟ɐ]  'Lithuania'
Older and conservative Brazilian[66][67][68][69] álcool [ˈäɫ̪ko̞ɫ̪] 'alcohol, ethanol'

See also


  1. Qafisheh (1977), pp. 2, 14.
  2. Siptár & Törkenczy (2000), pp. 75–76.
  3. 1 2 3 Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004), p. 117.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Canepari (1992), p. 89.
  5. 1 2 Bertinetto & Loporcaro (2005), p. 133.
  6. Lunt (1952), p. 1.
  7. 1 2 3 Sadowsky et al. (2013), pp. 88–89.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Kristoffersen (2000), p. 25.
  9. Engstrand (2004), p. 167.
  10. Keane (2004), p. 111.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Sjoberg (1963), p. 13.
  12. Thompson (1959), pp. 458–461.
  13. Thelwall (1990), p. 38.
  14. Dum-Tragut (2009), p. 20.
  15. 1 2 Wheeler (2005), pp. 10–11.
  16. 1 2 "Voiced Alveolar Lateral - Central | Els Sons del Català".
    "Voiced Alveolar Lateral - Nord Occidental | Els Sons del Català".
  17. 1 2 3 Recasens & Espinosa (2005), pp. 1, 20.
  18. 1 2 Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 197, 222.
  19. 1 2 3 4 Collins & Mees (2003), p. 197.
  20. 1 2 Wells (1982), p. 515.
  21. Bertinetto & Loporcaro (2005), p. 132.
  22. Canepari (1992), pp. 88–89.
  23. 1 2 3 Jerzy Treder. "Fonetyka i fonologia".
  24. Kara (2003), p. 11.
  25. 1 2 Rocławski (1976), p. 130.
  26. Chițoran (2001), p. 10.
  27. Hanulíková & Hamann (2010), p. 374.
  28. Pretnar & Tokarz (1980), p. 21.
  29. Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003), p. 255.
  30. Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995), p. 10.
  31. Ikekeonwu (1999), p. 108.
  32. 1 2 3 4 Zimmer & Orgun (1999), pp. 154–155.
  33. 1 2 3 4 Göksel & Kerslake (2005), p. 8.
  34. Merrill (2008), p. 108.
  35. 1 2 Árnason (2011), p. 115.
  36. 1 2 Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), p. 192.
  37. 1 2 Mangold (2005), p. 49.
  38. 1 2 Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 24–25.
  39. Depalatalization and consequential iotization in the speech of Fortaleza. Page 2. (Portuguese)
  40. Barbosa & Albano (2004), p. 229.
  41. Runaround generator
  42. Cruz-Ferreira (1995), p. 92.
  43. For example Beal (2004).
  44. 1 2 Recasens & Espinosa (2005), p. 4.
  45. Padluzhny (1989), pp. 50–51.
  46. 1 2 Rafel (1999), p. 14.
  47. Scholten (2000), p. 22.
  48. 1 2 Mathiassen (1996), p. 23.
  49. Lunt (1952), pp. 11–12.
  50. Endresen (1990:177), cited in Kristoffersen (2000:25)
  51. Jones & Ward (1969), p. 168.
  52. Ó Dochartaigh (1997).
  53. 1 2 Donaldson (1993), p. 17.
  54. 1 2 Lass (1987), p. 117.
  55. Watson (2002), p. 16.
  56. 1 2 Collins & Mees (2003), pp. 58, 197, 222.
  57. Roca & Johnson (1999), p. 73.
  58. Northern Greek Dialects Portal for the Greek Language
  59. Pop (1938), p. 30.
  60. Gick et al. (2006), p. ?.
  61. Cruz-Ferreira (1995), p. 93.
  62. "Um caso de português tonal no Brasil?" – Centro de Comunicação e Expressão – Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (Portuguese). Page 52.
  63. MELO, Gladstone Chaves de. "A língua do Brasil". 4. Ed. Melhorada e aum., Rio de Janeiro: Padrão, 1981
  64. Português do sul do Brasil – variação fonológica Leda Bisol and Gisela Collischonn. Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, 2009. Pages 153–156.
  65. (Italian) Accenti romanze: Portogallo e Brasile (portoghese) – The influence of foreign accents on Italian language acquisition
  66. (Portuguese) The process of Norm change for the good pronunciation of the Portuguese language in chant and dramatics in Brazil during 1938, 1858 and 2007 Page 36.
  67. TEYSSIER, Paul. "História da Língua Portuguesa", Lisboa: Livraria Sá da Costa, pp. 81-83.
  68. Bisol (2005:211)
  69. "Um caso de português tonal no Brasil?" – Centro de Comunicação e Expressão – Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (Portuguese). Page 49.


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