Lateral consonant

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Laterals are "L"-like consonants pronounced with an occlusion made somewhere along the axis of the tongue, while air from the lungs escapes at one side or both sides of the tongue.

Most commonly the tip of the tongue makes contact with the upper teeth (see dental consonant) or the upper gum (the alveolar ridge) just behind the teeth (see alveolar consonant). The most common laterals are approximants and belong to the class of liquids, though lateral fricatives and affricates are common in some parts of the world.

The labial fricatives [f v] often—perhaps usually—have lateral airflow, as the lip blocks the airflow in the center, but they are nonetheless not considered lateral consonants because no language makes a distinction between the two possibilities. Plosives are never lateral, and the distinction is meaningless for nasal consonants and consonants articulated in the throat.


Laterals in various languages

English has one lateral phoneme: the lateral approximant /l/, which in many accents has two allophones. One, found before vowels as in lady or fly, is called clear l, pronounced as the alveolar lateral approximant [l] with a "neutral" position of the body of the tongue. The other variant, so-called dark l found before consonants or word-finally, as in bold or tell, is pronounced as the velarized alveolar lateral approximant [ɫ] with the tongue assuming a spoon-like shape with its back part raised, which gives the sound a [w]- or [ʟ]-like resonance. In some languages, like Albanian, those two sounds are different phonemes. East Slavic languages contrast [ɫ] and [lʲ] but do not have a plain [l].

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