L Words in English
One topic on language certain to stir passions is the pronunciation of “l words” like salmon, almond, palm, and psalm.
Charles Elster in his Big Book of Beastly Pronunciations submits reluctantly and ungraciously to the fact that a great many educated English speakers pronounce the “l” in almond:
With so many accepted pronunciations of the word, common sense dictates that the prudent orthoepist, like the circumspect politician, refrain from issuing a dictum and instead defer to regional and personal preference–in common parlance, go with the flow.
orthoepist: An expert in orthoepy; a person who studies the pronunciation of words
Elster nevertheless maintains that his personal preference, is, well, preferable, pointing out that all of his sources list the AH-mund pronunciation first. He does not budge on alms, balm, calm, palm, psalm, qualm, and salmon, insisting that to pronounce the “l” in any of these words is “beastly.”
Both the OED and M-W list the silent “l” as the first pronunciation and the “l” pronunciation as a variant for the following words: alms, palm, psalm, and qualm.
OED gives only the silent “l” pronunciation for salmon, balm, and calm.
M-W lists both pronunciations for balm and calm, but only the silent “l” pronunciation for salmon.
Another “l” word, solder, “a fusible metallic alloy used for uniting metal surfaces or parts,” is pronounced SOD-er in American English, but SOLE-der in British English.
Most of these words had their problematic l’s inserted in the 15th and 16th centuries when scholars thought it important to make words resemble their Latin originals. Salmon, for example, entered English without the l: samoun. Its Latin original was salmon. The “l” was “restored,” but the pronunciation did not change.
Some other words with “restored l’s” that no one argues about are: fault, vault, cauldron, and soldier. As far as I’m aware, nobody tries to pronounce them without the “l.” (In standard English, that is. Caudron still exists in Scots dialect.)
Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!
Keep learning! Browse the Spelling category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:
Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!