Consonants: Liquids

Consonants: Liquids

Liquids, like all consonants, involve a substantial constriction of the vocal tract, but the constrictions for liquids are not narrow enough to block the vocal tract or cause turbulence. For the lateral (= side) liquid [l] the center of the vocal tract is completely obstructed, like in a stop, but there is a side passage around the tongue. You can feel this positioning by first starting to say leaf and "freezing" your tongue at the [l], then inhaling sharply. The air will cool the sides of your tongue, showing you the airflow pattern. The [l] sound is produced with the tongue touching the alveolar ridge as in [t], but the airstream escapes around the sides of the tongue. Liquids are usually voiced in English: [l] is avoiced alveolar lateral liquid.
The other liquid in English is [r]. There is a great deal of variation in the ways speakers of English make r-sounds. Most are voiced and articulated in the alveolar region, and a common type also involves curling the tip  of the tongue aback behind the alveolar right to make a retroflex sound. For our purposes, [r] as in red is a voiced alveolar retroflex liquid
Another liquid in English is the [D], described as the "flap r." You can hear it in words like ladder (where the mid sound is not a [d] as in *ladder) and butter (where the middle sound is not [t] like *butter.) You've probably heard the "flap r" in Spanish, as in pero "but" and cara "face." In addition, Spanish as a "trill r", in which the tongue vibrates rapidly, as inperro "dog" and Ramon.
  • Phonetic symbols are written in square brackets [ ] to distinguish them from letters written in ordinary spelling.
  • Our class uses the ASCII Phonetic Alphabet (.pdf) using fonts already on your keyboard.
  • Each sound is a single sound. So [l], a single consonant sound, is not *[l^], which is two separate sounds, the voiceless consonant [l] plus the voiced vowel  [^]. 
Click the speaker to hear the symbol and to hear the sound within sample words. Be sure to make the sounds as you hear them, paying attention to where and how the sounds are made in your vocal tract.






Sample Words


leaf, feelLloyd, mild


reef, fear, Harris, carp


writer, butter, udder, clutter (this "r" is called a flap-r)

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