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Lawlessness and chaos have engulfed Iraq's second largest city after militants seized control and government forces fled. (part of Aussie ABC; Original)

Have I not got the knack of catching the L sound in the -less- of lawlessness? I only hear R instead of L in the audio from Aussie ABC news. Is it because of my lacking skill to catch it or do even English users hear it as L? Or is there a sound rule about the L that I have to follow up?

  • This is difficult to put into words. One problem is English has more than one allophones for /r/, depending on the dialect. But I think we can simplify the difference like this: usually, to make an /l/, the tongue touches the roof of the month, while the /r/ in AmE doesn't really have that touching, and in BrE, /r/ is trilling. (This is mainly only about these sounds at the beginning of a word or a syllable.) – Damkerng T. Jun 11 '14 at 0:12
  • I want to do another spectrogram! But basically, /l/ and /r/ are phonetically similar. That's why it can be difficult to hear the difference between them, especially if your native language doesn't have a distinction between them, or both phones. – jimsug Jun 11 '14 at 0:45
  • @Damkerng: It might also be relevant that when I say lawless, the /w/ is effectively reduced to an /r/ anyway. But if I imagine a hypothetical word that's identical in all respects apart from not having that second /l/, the /w/ would have to be enunciated as such (an /r/ wouldn't pass muster then). – FumbleFingers Jun 11 '14 at 0:46
  • The second "l" in "lawlessness" is more clearly an "l" than the first one for me (native AmE, NE US). – Pockets Jun 11 '14 at 2:06
  • @FumbleFingers which /r/ do you hear/say? I think in that clip, the medial /l/ is even more reduced, turning into a tap - I was attempting to create some spectrograms and found it difficult to isolate it. Also, the 'aw' is probably pronounced like a low-back rounded vowel. – jimsug Jun 11 '14 at 2:32
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The psychology of phonology is such that native speakers with no special training, and when they're not paying attention, cannot be realistically taken to 'hear' one allophone rather than another. Instead people usually just 'hear' the whole word and reconstruct what they hear.

For example, I am a native English speaker and I noticed one day that I consistently pronounce the 'b' in 'describe' as a 'v' for no apparent reason. I also pronounce the 'n' in 'only' as an 'm'. No one's ever mentioned it, and they only notice the difference when I point it out.

Take a look/listen to the following video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-lN8vWm3m0

(Actually, I hope your native language has a distinct 'f' sound, or that you have learned how to pronounce the English sound in the typical way, with the upper teeth against lower lip; otherwise, the video might not make sense.)

I would focus more on comprehension and trying to emulate the accent you want to adopt, rather than particular allophones.

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