velarized /l/ and Billy Holiday

Herb Stahlke hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 6 12:45:31 UTC 2009


You got my point, and thanks for the observation on the vowel
transition before /l/.  My students always had problems with
transcribing vowels before final /l/, which usually provided a good
teaching opportunity.

Tom, on the other hand, misses the point as usual.  Velarization, Tom,
is not velar closure.  The back of the tongue is raised but not high
enough to touch the velum.  This has a clear acoustic effect on the
consonant, in this case /l/.  You have some grasp of the "place of
articulation" parameter, at least that it exists, but you seem totally
unaware of the "manner of articulation" parameter.  If you won't take
a course, at least read a good text on phonetics.  I recommend Peter
Ladefoged's A Course in Linguistics, 5th ed. (Thomson Learning 2005).
The book comes with a CD, so you'll be able to hear what sounds IPA
symbols represent.  You can also find the content of the CD on line at


On Fri, Mar 6, 2009 at 1:13 AM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: velarized /l/ and Billy Holiday
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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"
> [tEIbr].
> If I haven't missed your point.
> -Wilson
> –––
> 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:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>> 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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