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Syllabic consonant l

Syllabic /l/ is by far the best example of the English syllabic consonant although it is not found in all English accents but definitely it is very common in British English. It always occurs after another consonant and the way it is produced depends on this preceding consonant.

We find the syllabic /l/ in words ending with one or more consonant letters followed by –le (or –les for the plural form of nouns or third person singular verbs).

Cattle /ˈkætl̩/
Bottle /ˈbɒtl̩/
Muddle /ˈmʌdl̩/
Couple /ˈkʌpl̩/ (Br.En) /ˈkʌpəl/ (Am.En)
Trouble /ˈtrʌbl̩/ (Br.En) /ˈtrʌbəl/ (Am.En)
Struggle /ˈstrʌɡl̩/ (Br.En) /ˈstrʌgəl/ (Am.En)

In the first three examples above (cattle, bottle, muddle) there is no way to avoid the syllabic consonant /l/. We also observe that in all of these three words the syllabic consonant /l/ is preceded by an alveolar consonant.

In the last three examples (couple, trouble, struggle) the syllabic consonant /l/ is preceded by a non-alveolar consonant. In this case, some accents of English (I believe the vast majority of them) insert a vowel between the syllabic /l/ and the preceding consonant.

Another case in which the syllabic consonant /l/ is found is in such words, like presented above, when a suffix that begins with a vowel is attached. In this case the /l/ usually remains syllabic. However, the final letter /e/ is lost. The word "muddling" (muddle + -ing) /ˈmʌdl̩iŋ/ is a very good example.

There is one more situation when the syllabic consonant /l/ is found. In words spelled with one or more consonant letters at the end that are followed by –al or –el the consonant /l/ is syllabic.

Petal /ˈpɛtl̩/
Panel /ˈpænl̩/

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