Lesson 10: L, R, and Syllabic ConsonantsThe sounds /l/ and /r/ are formed with more movement of the speech organsthan most other consonant sounds. These two sounds are called liquids.They are characterized by extensive movements of the speech organs fromone position to another. Unlike other consonants that are made with thespeech organs in a fixed position,liquids are sometimes described as vowel-like consonants produced without friction. In English, /l/ is produced with thetipof the tongue moving to or away from the tooth ridge, and the sides arelowered so that the air goes out laterally. It is a voiced sound. The sound /r/hardly seems to be pronounced in certain places except at the beginning of aword or syllable. Most English speakers, however, pronounce it with bothsides of the tongue touching the back part of the tooth ridge and the backteeth. The tip does not touch anything. The middle of the tongue, includingthe tip, is lower than the sides, and the air goes out through the channelformed between the middle of the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Thelips are slightly open. This liquid sound is made as the speech organs move tothis position from a vowel (are) or away from this position to a vowel (red). Inwhatever direction it may end, it always begins by a motion toward the backof the mouth, which is called retroflex.
As we know, /iy/, /ɪ/ , /ey/ , /ε/ and /æ/ are front vowels. iy ɪey ɛ æThe movements of /l/ and /r/, especially following a vowel sound, areproduced far in the back of the mouth. So it is more complicated to pass froma front vowel sound to /l/ and/r/ than from a back vowel to either liquid. Asthe tongue moves back from the position of the front vowel, it passesthrough the middle, central zone where /ə/ is formed. In doing so, itproduces a centering glide that is heard as /ə/. We may say that,WHEN A FRONT VOWEL IS FOLLOWED BY /l/ or /r/, AN INTERMEDIARY /ə/ IS INSERTED./iy/ + /ə/ seal /siyəl/ /ɛ/ + /ə/ well /wɛəl//i/ + /ə/ fill /fiəl/ wear /wɛər/ fear /fiər/ /æ/ + /ə/ shall /ʃæəl//ey/ + /ə/ tale /teyəl/Prator, C. & Robinett, B. (1985). Manual of American English Pronunciation (3rd Ed). Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company