Dental, alveolar and postalveolar lateral approximants

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Alveolar lateral approximant
IPA number 155
Entity (decimal) l
Unicode (hex) U+006C
Kirshenbaum l
Braille ⠇ (braille pattern dots-123)
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 contrasts 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.


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 (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 which have it, as in English health.

Dental or denti-alveolar

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Arabic Gulf[1]  ? [l̪eːn] 'when' Laminal denti-alveolar.
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 Many dialects[8] liv [l̪iːʋ] 'life' Laminal denti-alveolar. 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] [example needed] 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 About this sound [lusin]  'moon'
Catalan[15][16] tela [ˈt̪ɛlə] 'fabric' Apical 'front alveolar'.[15][16] May also be velarized.[17] See Catalan phonology
English Most speakers let [lɛt] 'let' See English phonology
New York[18] Varies between apical and laminal, with the latter being predominant.[18]
Italian[3][19][20] letto [ˈlɛt̪ːo] 'bed' Apical.[4] See Italian phonology
Kashubian[21] [example needed]
Kyrgyz[22] көпөлөк [køpøˈløk] 'butterfly' Velarized in back vowel contexts
Mapudungun[7] elun [ëˈlʊn] 'to give'
Polish[23] 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[24] alună [äˈlun̪ə] 'hazelnut' Apical. See Romanian phonology
Slovak[25] mĺkvy About this sound [ˈml̩ːkʋi]  'silent' Syllabic form can be long or short
Slovene[26] letalo [lɛˈt̪àːlɔ] 'airplane'
Spanish[27] hablar [äˈβ̞läɾ] 'to speak' See Spanish phonology
Ukrainian[28] обличчя [oˈblɪt͡ʃːɐ] 'face' Contrasts with palatalized form. See Ukrainian phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Italian[4] il cervo [il̠ʲ ˈt͡ʃɛrvo] 'the deer' Palatalized laminal; allophone of /l/ before /ʃ t͡ʃ d͡ʒ/.[4] See Italian phonology
Turkish[29][30] lale About this sound [l̠ʲäːˈl̠ʲɛ]  'tulip' Palatalized; contrasts with a velarized dental lateral [ɫ̪].[29][30] See Turkish phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Faroese[31] linur [ˈliːnʊɹ] 'soft' Varies between dental and alveolar in initial position, whereas the postvocalic /l/ may be postalveolar, especially after back vowels.[31] See Faroese phonology
French[32] il [il] 'he' Varies between laminal denti-alveolar and apical alveolar, with the latter being predominant.[32] See French phonology
German Standard[33] Liebe [ˈliːbə] 'love' Varies between laminal denti-alveolar, laminal alveolar and apical alveolar.[33] See Standard German phonology
Portuguese Most Brazilian dialects[34][35] lero-lero [ˈlɛɾu ˈlɛɾu] 'runaround'[36] Dental to sometimes alveolar. Always co-articulated in other dialects.[37] See Portuguese phonology

Velarized alveolar lateral approximant

Dark L
IPA number 209
Entity (decimal) l​ˠ
Unicode (hex) U+006C U+02E0
X-SAMPA 5 or l_G or l_?\
Kirshenbaum l<vzd>

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. If the sound is dental or denti-alveolar, one could use a dental diacritic to indicate that: ⟨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.[38]


Features of the dark l:


Dental or denti-alveolar

Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Belarusian[39] Беларусь [bʲɛɫ̪äˈrus̪ʲ] 'Belarus' Laminal denti-alveolar. Contrasts with palatalized form. See Belarusian phonology
Catalan[17][40] altres [ˈaɫ̪t̪ɾəs̺] 'others' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ before /t d/.[40] See Catalan phonology
Icelandic[41] sigldi [s̺ɪɫ̪t̪ɪ] 'sailed' Laminal denti-alveolar; rare. See Icelandic phonology
Lithuanian[42] labas [ˈɫ̪äːbɐs̪] 'hi' Laminal denti-alveolar. Contrasts with [lʲ]
Macedonian[43] лук
[ɫ̪uk] 'garlic' Laminal denti-alveolar. Present only before back vowels (/a o u/) and syllable-finally. See Macedonian phonology
Norwegian Southeastern[42] tale [ˈt̪ʰɑ̈ːɫ̪ə] 'speech, to speak' Laminal denti-alveolar. Allophone of /l/ after /ɑ ɑː ɔ oː/. See Norwegian phonology
Polish Eastern dialects[23] łapa [ˈɫ̪äpä] 'paw' Laminal denti-alveolar. Corresponds to /w/ in standard Polish. See Polish phonology
Russian[44] малый [ˈmɑ̟ɫ̪ɨ̞j] 'small' Pharyngealized laminal denti-alveolar. See Russian phonology
Scottish Gaelic[45] Mallaig [ˈmäʊɫ̪ækʲ] 'Mallaig' See Scottish Gaelic phonology
Turkish[29][30] lala [ɫ̪äˈɫ̪ä] 'servant' Laminal denti-alveolar.[30] Contrasts with a palatalized postalveolar lateral [].[29][30] See Turkish phonology


Language Word IPA Meaning Notes
Afrikaans Standard[46][47] tafel [ˈtɑːfəɫ] 'table' Velarized in all positions, especially non-prevocalically.[46][47] See Afrikaans phonology
Arabic Standard[48] الله ʼAllah [ʔɑˈɫːɑːh] 'God' Also transcribed as ⟨⟩. Many accents and dialects lack the sound and instead pronounce [l]. 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[49][50][51] bal [bɑɫ] 'ball' Postvocalic allophone of /l/. Pharyngealised. Can be always dark in some Netherlandic dialects. See Dutch phonology
English[52] Australian feel About this sound  [fiːɫ]  'feel' Most often apical. Can be always dark in North America, Australia and New Zealand. See 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[53] μπάλα lla [ˈbaɫa] 'ball' Allophone of /l/ before /a o u/. See Modern Greek phonology
Romanian Bessarabian dialect[54] cal [kaɫ] 'horse' Corresponds to non-velarized l[in which environments?] in standard Romanian. See Romanian phonology
Serbo-Croatian[55] лак / lak [ɫâ̠k] 'easy' Apical; may be syllabic; contrasts with /ʎ/. See Serbo-Croatian phonology
Uzbek[11] [example needed] 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[56] mil [miɫ̪] 'thousand' When [lˠ ~ lʶ ~ lˤ ~ lˀ],[57] most often dental. Coda is now vocalized to [ ~ ʊ̯] in most of Brazil (as in rural parts of Alto Minho and Madeira).[58] Stigmatized realizations such as [ɾ ~ ɽ ~ ɻ], the /ʁ/ range, [j] and even [∅] (zero) are some other coda allophones typical of Brazil.[59] Might be always dental, and always dark (especially before back/rounded and close/unrounded vowels) in most dialects. See Portuguese phonology
Most dialects[60] Lituânia About this sound [ɫ̪it̪uˈɐ̃ɲ̟ɐ]  'Lithuania'
Older and conservative Brazilian[61][62][63][64] álcool [ˈäɫ̪ko̞ɫ̪] 'alcohol, ethanol'

See also


  1. Qafisheh (1977), pp. 2, 14.
  2. Siptár & Törkenczy (2000:75–76)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004:117)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Canepari (1992:89)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bertinetto & Loporcaro (2005:133)
  6. Lunt (1952:1)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Sadowsky et al. (2013:88–89)
  8. Vanvik (1979:36)
  9. Engstrand (2004:167)
  10. Keane (2004:111)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Sjoberg (1963:13)
  12. Thompson (1959:458–461)
  13. Thelwall (1990:38)
  14. Dum-Tragut (2009:20)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Wheeler (2005:10–11)
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Voiced Alveolar Lateral - Central | Els Sons del Català".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    "Voiced Alveolar Lateral - Nord Occidental | Els Sons del Català".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Recasens & Espinosa (2005:1 and 20)
  18. 18.0 18.1 Wells (1982), p. 515.
  19. Bertinetto & Loporcaro (2005:132)
  20. Canepari (1992:88–89)
  22. Kara (2003:11)
  23. 23.0 23.1 Rocławski (1976:130)
  24. Chițoran (2001:10)
  25. Hanulíková & Hamann (2010:374)
  26. Pretnar & Tokarz (1980:21)
  27. Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003:255)
  28. Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:10)
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 Zimmer & Orgun (1999:154–155)
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 30.4 Göksel & Kerslake (2005:8)
  31. 31.0 31.1 Árnason (2011), p. 115.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), p. 192.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Mangold (2005), p. 49.
  34. Depalatalization and consequential iotization in the speech of Fortaleza. Page 2. (Portuguese)
  35. Barbosa & Albano (2004:229)
  36. Runaround generator
  37. Cruz-Ferreira (1995:92)
  38. 38.0 38.1 Recasens & Espinosa (2005:4)
  39. Padluzhny (1989:50–51)
  40. 40.0 40.1 Rafel (1999:14)
  41. Scholten (2000:22)
  42. 42.0 42.1 Mathiassen (1996:23)
  43. Lunt (1952:11–12)
  44. Jones & Ward (1969:168)
  45. Ó Dochartaigh (1997)
  46. 46.0 46.1 Donaldson (1993), p. 17.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Lass (1987), p. 117.
  48. Watson (2002:16)
  49. Verhoeven (2005:245)
  50. Booij, Geert. 1999. The Phonology of Dutch. P.8
  52. Roca & Johnson (1999:73)
  53. Northern Greek Dialects Portal for the Greek Language
  54. Pop (1938), p. 30.
  55. Gick et al. (2006:?)
  56. Cruz-Ferreira (1995:93)
  57. "Um caso de português tonal no Brasil?" – Centro de Comunicação e Expressão – Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (Portuguese). Page 52.
  58. MELO, Gladstone Chaves de. "A língua do Brasil". 4. Ed. Melhorada e aum., Rio de Janeiro: Padrão, 1981
  59. Português do sul do Brasil – variação fonológica Leda Bisol and Gisela Collischonn. Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, 2009. Pages 153–156.
  60. (Italian) Accenti romanze: Portogallo e Brasile (portoghese) – The influence of foreign accents on Italian language acquisition
  61. (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.
  62. TEYSSIER, Paul. "História da Língua Portuguesa", Lisboa: Livraria Sá da Costa, pp. 81-83.
  63. Bisol (2005:211)
  64. "Um caso de português tonal no Brasil?" – Centro de Comunicação e Expressão – Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (Portuguese). Page 49.


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