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In British English the difference is clear, but do these words "cold" and "code" also sound different in American English? If so, how does one make /oʊ/ different from /oʊǀ/? Do the lips round more for /oʊǀ/?

  • 1
    It all depends on the speaker's accent. I think I'd have trouble distinguishing these two words in Mancunian, and that's a British accent (Manchester-based). – FumbleFingers Oct 19 '13 at 17:36
  • My lips stay the same, but my tongue curls to insert the "l" in cold. – J.R. Oct 19 '13 at 17:41
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    Well and the "o" is also pronounced differently, at least in my accent. Ode and old don't sound the same; neither do code and cold. The vowel sound is different, not just the "l". – WendiKidd Oct 19 '13 at 18:29
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    My native dialect is East Alabama, and unless I'm in onstage mode I pronounce them identically. – StoneyB Oct 19 '13 at 19:18
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    I'm from Texas, and the tongue hits the palate for the "l" in cold. – chrylis Oct 19 '13 at 20:21
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+100

To summarize the responses in the comments:

In many dialects, both British and US, [ɫ], the ‘dark’ post-vocalic variant of the phoneme /l/ is reduced.

Following an unrounded vowel, it becomes a longish offglide [ʊː]:  standard [kɪɫ] (kill) becomes [kɪʊː].

Following a vowel which already has this offglide, it lengthens the offglide:  standard [kɔʊɫ] (coal) becomes [kɔʊː], standard [kaʊɫ] (cowl) becomes [kaʊː].

Following a rounded vowel, it may either reduce to an offglide [ʊː], often with some reduction of the base vowel for more contrast—standard [kɔɫ] (call) becomes [kəʊː] in my dialect—or it may simply lengthen the base vowel:  standard [kɔɫ] becomes [kɔː].

These changes are not affected by a following consonant, so standard [kɔʊɫd] (cold) becomes [kɔʊːd]. The only difference between cold and code, then, is that the [ʊ] piece is slightly longer with cold.

Note, however, that these changes do not take place (at least in my dialect) when phonemic /l/ is followed by a vowel, as in calling. In this case, /l/ becomes the beginning of the following syllable; in that syllable-initial context it loses its ‘darkness’ and is pronounced as [l]: ['kɔ⋅lɪŋ]

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Yes, they're distinct in US English. At least on the West Coast, we pronounce cold "cohld" and code as "cohd", both with a hard "o".

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