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Velarization: Wikis


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Sound change and alternation
Fortition (strengthening)

Velarization is a secondary articulation of consonants by which the back of the tongue is raised toward the velum during the articulation of the consonant. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, velarization is transcribed by one of three diacritics:

  1. A tilde or swung dash through the letter covers both velarization and pharyngealization, as in [ɫ] (the velarized equivalent of [l])
  2. A superscript gamma ‹ˠ› after the letter standing for the velarized consonant, as in [tˠ] (the velarized equivalent of [t])
  3. A superscript double-u ‹ʷ› indicates either simultaneous velarization and labialization, as in [sʷ], or labialization of a velar consonant, as in [kʷ].

Although electropalatographic studies have shown that there is a continuum of possible degrees of velarization,[1] the IPA offers no way to indicate degrees of velarization, for this difference has not been found to be contrastive in any language.

A common example of a velarized consonant is the velarized alveolar lateral approximant (or dark l). In some accents of English, such as Received Pronunciation, the phoneme /l/ has "dark" and "light" allophones: the "dark", velarized allophone appears in syllable coda position (e.g. in full), while the "light", non-velarized allophone appears in syllable onset position (e.g. in lawn). Other accents of English, such as Scottish English and Australian English, have "dark L" in all positions, while Hiberno-English has "clear L" in all positions. Other languages that have this distinction in some form include Albanian (which phonemically contrasts light l vs. dark ll), Catalan and Turkish.

For many languages, velarization is generally associated with more dental articulations of coronal consonants so that dark l tends to be dental or dentoalveolar while clear l tends to be retracted to an alveolar position.[2]

In a few languages, including Irish and Russian, velarized consonants systematically contrast phonemically with palatalized consonants. The palatalized/velarized contrast is known by other names, especially in language pedagogy: in Irish language teaching, the terms slender (for palatalized) and broad (for velarized) are often used, while in Russian language teaching, the terms soft (for palatalized) and hard (for velarized) are usual. The terms light (for palatalized) and dark (for velarized) are also widespread.



  • Recasens, Daniel & Maria Dolores. Pallarès (1995), "Velarization degree and coarticulatory resistance for /l/ in Catalan and German", Journal of Phonetics 23: 37-52
  • Recasens, Daniel & Aina Espinosa (2005), "Articulatory, positional and coarticulatory characteristics for clear /l/ and dark /l/: evidence from two Catalan dialects", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 35 (1): 1-25


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