velarized /l/ and Billy Holiday

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 6 06:13:37 UTC 2009

My WAG is that it's a feature of her dialect. BE doesn't have the
style of articulation that makes the pronunciation of, e.g. "cool" by
(Northern) white speakers sound to us like 'koo-wool" and causes BE
"cool" to sound like "coo" to white speakers. As a further
consequence, some BE speakers overcorrect, e.g. "table" to "taber"

If I haven't missed your point.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

On Thu, Mar 5, 2009 at 10:06 PM, Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at> wrote:
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> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â velarized /l/ and Billy Holiday
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> This afternoon I was listening to a recording of Billy Holiday singing
> "Crazy he calls me." Â In the line "The impossible will take a little
> while" she has a schwa before the final /l/ of "impossible" and I
> don't hear any distinctive velarization of the /l/. Â There are several
> other post-vocalic /l/s in the song, and they don't show much
> velarization either. Â Post-vocalic /l/ is a consistent problem for
> American English singers, since the raising of the back of the tongue
> towards the velum constricts the oral cavity and reduces the overall
> resonance of the syllable coda. Â Some voice teachers and choral
> conductors will spend time training their singers to use only a
> non-velarized /l/, as a number European languages widely represented
> in the vocal and choral literature do. Â My CD of Billy is, of course,
> a copy, and I don't know how good the master was. Â It's entirely
> possible that the fidelity is not good enough to support much in the
> way of diction comments, but my impression is otherwise. Â Billy's
> diction is superb. Â Every word she sings is clear, even on a copy of a
> copy of a 1949 recording. Â Billy had little or no formal vocal
> training, so the fact that she doesn't velarize /l/ much, if at all,
> wouldn't be the result of vocal training. Â Is it a feature of her
> variety of AAE? Â Is it idiosyncratic to her distinctive vocal style?
> Herb
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