The sociolinguistics of /l/ in Manchester

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This paper presents a study of sociophonetic variation in the lateral approximant /l/ in Manchester, UK. We know little about how English laterals pattern sociolinguistically, despite them having been subject to extensive investigation in the phonetic literature. We present acoustic measures taken from interviews with 96 speakers from the city, stratified across five socioeconomic classes, spanning 99 years of birthdates (1907–2006). We demonstrate that word-initial /l/ is becoming darker in apparent time: younger speakers have darker /l/s. There is, however, no evidence that the allophonic status of /l/ is changing, with /l/ in all positions becoming darker. There is a monotonic relationship with social class: the higher the social class, the lighter the /l/, with some middle-class speakers showing potential of an allophonic distribution. We find an effect of ethnicity, with white speakers having darker /l/s in comparison to Black and Pakistani Mancunians. Overall, our findings are a novel contribution to the understanding of the sociophonetics of English laterals and provide new evidence of social patterning and the allophonic status of /l/ in this variety.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalLinguistics Vanguard
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2021