Sylvia Cohen

Senior Project Advisor

Jordan Sandoval

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2022


Orthography, Phonetics, Phonology, Vowels, l, homophones, mental lexicon, abstract phonology, English


This paper discusses the preliminary results of a phonetics/phonology study investigating the effects of orthographic (written) ‘l’ on the pronunciation of English words like ‘walk’ and ‘talk’. These words would typically be transcribed in the International Phonetic Alphabet as /wak/ and /tak/, with no /l/ sound present; however, there is some reason to suspect that the written ‘l’ is salient in speakers’ mental representations of these words and may influence their pronunciation. In English (as well as many other languages) vowels before voiced consonants have longer durations than vowels before voiceless consonants. Experimentation by Walsh (1985) has indicated that this is a phonological rather than physiological rule: vowels are produced longer before consonants with the phonological feature [+voicing] independent of the actual presence or absence of vocal fold vibration. Thus, one of the primary hypotheses behind the current study is that the presence of the written silent ‘l’ (a voiced consonant) will cause speakers to increase the duration of the vowel sound that precedes it, reacting to the known phonological features of the silent letter. To test this hypothesis, this study examined 7 English homophone pairs in which one member of the pair has a silent 'l' in its coda and the other only a voiceless consonant (ex: walk vs wok). It was found that in the words containing a written ‘l’ the vowel took up a slightly longer portion of the word and the final consonant took up less. This appears to offer some initial support to the idea that phonological vowel lengthening is occurring; however additional data is needed to confirm that the hypothesis proposed above is the cause of this pattern. The premises of this study are grounded in recent research in the fields of phonetics, phonology, and orthography which has begun to support the idea of an abstract phonology stored in the speaker’s lexicon which is influenced and/or reflected by orthography.



Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Language and languages--Orthography and spelling; L (The sound); Homonyms; Vowels


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