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Do you pronounce the "L" in yolk?

asked 2015-11-30 23:06:04 -0400

acadadialect gravatar image

Asking for a theater dialect class. We realized you say the "L" in folk, and debated whether it applied to egg yolk as well.

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answered 2015-12-02 23:11:37 -0400

usagi5886 gravatar image

updated 2015-12-10 15:10:46 -0400

This is referred to as "L-vocalization". Check out the Wikipedia article on the topic.

In my own speech, I pronounce both words without any /l/, i.e. I say folk as if it were "foke" and yolk for me has the same pronunciation as yoke. At the time of writing, the last person to edit Wiktionary had the same intuition for folk but allowed the pronunciation with /l/ for yolk. However, this is not definitive. This the kind of alternation in pronunciation that may vary:

  1. from one region of the US to another
  2. within a given region, from one individual to another
  3. within a given individual, from one situation/conversation to another

You might find it interesting to flip through these slides from a presentation on the topic at a linguistics conference: Hall-Lew & Fix (2010) "Multiple Measures of L‐Vocalization". In particular, on slide/page 28 you can see that, the BOAT vowel ([oʊ] in the International Phonetic Alphabet) - in other words, the same vowel as in folk and yolk - is the vowel where people rated the /l/ sound as 'vocalized' (i.e. with no /l/) the most often. So it's no coincidence that these are the ones where you noticed the /l/ was 'missing'.

More generally, it seems that the vocalization ('deletion') of the /l/ is a gradient process that is affected by a whole host of linguistic and social factors.

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Asked: 2015-11-30 23:06:04 -0400

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Last updated: Dec 10 '15

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