December 8, 2008

Those Pesky Silent Ls

An often-visited page on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago is “Silent Ls.” There are, it turns out, a significant number of English words that contain Ls that are not voiced, and my page is intended to draw attention to them. The pronunciation of some of these words is uncontroversial; I have never heard anyone pronounce the L in “would,” for example. Other words may be pronounced with or without an L sound, and the pronunciation with a voiced L may even be more common. One such word is “falcon,” which I pronounce with an L sound.

I find it maddening to hear common words that have traditionally had silent Ls pronounced with a voiced L. Newscasters, even those at NPR, are regularly guilty of this. The most common mispronunciations seems to be of “calm” and “qualm.” I think this comes of reading too much and listening too little.

It was particularly disheartening this morning to hear NPR’s Cokie Roberts pronounce “balk” as one would normally pronounce “bulk,” or something very close to that, in any case. These are distinct verbs with very different meanings, however, and they are definitely not homonyms. Seemingly, Cokie said, “The Senate Republicans are bulking, and they have the support of the public in the bulking.” This conjured up an image of Senate Republicans getting bigger and bigger. You can hear it for yourself here.

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