velarized /l/ and Billy Holiday

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Fri Mar 6 14:13:17 UTC 2009

On Mar 5, 2009, at 10:13 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:

> 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].
> On Thu, Mar 5, 2009 at 10:06 PM, Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at>
> wrote:
>> 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/...

this is complicated.  first, what causes AAVE "cool" to sound like
"coo" to white speakers is standardly said to be the vocalization of
the /l/ -- which is a further development of *dark* (velarized)
postvocalic /l/.

but, second, there's some suggestion in the literature (that i've been
able to find on the net quickly) that /l/ (in several positions) used
to be lighter in AAVE (and some southern white varieties) but has been
darkening.  so Billy Holiday's light /l/s might reflect an earlier
AAVE system.


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