From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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). Most laterals are approximants and belong to the class of liquids.
English has the alveolar lateral [l], which in many accents has two allophones. One, found before vowels (as in lady or fly), is called clear [l], pronounced 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 with the tongue assuming a spoon-like shape and its back part raised, which gives the sound an [u]-like resonance.
In many British accents (e.g. London English), dark [l] may undergo vocalisation through the reduction and loss of contact between the tip of the tongue the alveolar ridge, becoming a rounded back vowel or glide. This process turns tell into something like [tew].
Many non-Indo-European languages (e.g. in several native language families of North America and aboriginal Australian ones) have whole systems of several different lateral fricatives and affricates in their consonant inventories.