This investigation seeks to understand the factors causing vocalization and elision of dark /l/ in the Romance languages. Contrary to articulatory-and perceptual-based arguments in the literature it is claimed that preconsonantal vocalization conveys the phonemic categorization of the /w/-like formant transitions generated by the tongue dorsum retraction gesture (in a similar fashion to other processes such as /Vjn/ > /Vjn/). The evolution /VwlC/ > /VwC/ may be explained using articulatory and perceptual arguments. A dissimilatory perceptual mechanism is required in order to account for a much higher frequency of vocalizations before dentals and alveolars than before labials and velars in the Romance languages. Through this process listeners assign the gravity property of dark /l/ to a following grave labial or velar consonant but not so to a following acute dental or alveolar consonant in spite of the alveolar lateral being equally dark (i.e., grave) in the three consonantal environments. Other articulatory facts appear to play a role in the vocalization of final /l/ (i.e., the occurrence of closure after voicing has ceased) and of geminate /ll/ (i.e., its being darker than non-geminate /l/). The elision of dark /l/ may occur preconsonantally and word finally either after vocalization has applied or not. This study illustrates the multiple causal factors and the articulatory-perceptual nature of sound change processes.
- Dark /l/
- Romance languages