Published: April 25, 2022

Author: Kinley Rex
Nominator: Rebecca Scarborough
Course: LING 3100 Language Sound and Structures, Fall 2021
LURA 2022


Newfoundland is often referred to as the most homogenous province in Canada, with 98% of its residents speaking English (Decker, 1970). However, the combination of historical migration patterns, the geography of the island, as well the rapidly changing socioeconomic class makes the English found in Newfoundland far from monolithic. Due to these factors, the province has been deemed to have the “greatest regional diversity (in terms of language) to be found anywhere in North America” (Decker, 1970). Most of the migration to the island came from southwest England and Southeast Ireland, due to the booming fishing industry. 

For my final project, for Dr. Rebecca Scarborough’s Language Sound and Structure (Ling 3100) class, I explored the realization of the /l/ phoneme throughout the differing dialects across the island. These realizations include light and dark /l/. A light [l] is created when a speaker places their tongue behind their teeth and allows air to pass the sides of their tongue. A dark [ɫ] is produced similarly to the light [l] in terms of tongue position but differs in the back of the tongue. The back of the tongue lifts slightly to the back of the mouth creating tension in the throat. 

Attributable to the migration patterns of the island, it was hypothesized that Newfoundlander English speakers exhibit a light /l/ in the coda, as well as the onset portions of the word similar to many Irish dialects. The coda of the word can be described as the sound that occurs at the end of the word. The onset of the word is the sound that occurs at the beginning portion of the word. I predicted that although a majority of dialects exhibited the light [l] realizations seen in Irish English, there would be some instances where speakers would follow a more “standard” North American realization of the phoneme. This was due to the mixed migration patterns found on the island as well as the influence of modern technology often associated with “standard” North American English. 

The data collected and presented throughout this project was composed of linguistic samples of four native Newfoundlanders ranging in ages, gender, and geographical origin. Their geographical locations ranged from the capital city of Newfoundland, St. Johns, to a smaller fishing town by the coast. The realizations and the pronunciations of the /l/ phoneme are dependent on the placement of the sound within a word. The words that were selected for the language samples demonstrate the /l/ in the coda of the word as well as the /l/ in the onset of the word. Words were said in short phrases to allow the speaker to have the most natural pronunciation and get the most accurate representation of the phoneme. The words were selected to clearly contrast the sounds in word-final position and word-initial position. For example, the phrase “pay labs” shows the /l/ phoneme word-initially while the phrase “pale abs” shows the phoneme word-finally. Since the phrases utilized similar words and sounds, it made it easier to distinguish between the light and dark allophones. 

In order to determine these realizations, I utilized spectrographic analysis. A spectrogram analyzes the formants, or the specific frequencies, amplified by the shape of the vocal tract within a word. I focused primarily on the second formant (F2). If the F2 dips significantly compared to F1, it is a dark /l/; if it stays around the same height, it is a light /l/. As illustrated in the Corpus spectrogram in Figure 1, the light [l] depicts hardly any decrease in frequency when focusing on F2. This is contrasted with the significant decrease in frequency seen in the dark [ɫ].

Figure 1: Spectrograms comparing light /l/ (top) and dark /l/ (bottom) taken from Corpus.

When comparing the spectrogram in Figure 1, collected and created by Corpus, and the spectrogram, seen in Figure 2, utilizing a linguistic sample I collected from a Newfoundlander English speaker, a similar frequency pattern can be seen. As discussed above, the patterns of decreasing frequency in the second formant (F2) determines whether or not a speaker produced a light or dark /l/ in their linguistic sample. F2 for light /l/ occurs between 950-1,500 Hz and for dark /l/ the F2 occurs between 650-850 Hz (Corpus). The data in Figure 1, which demonstrates how a dark and light /l/ are manifested on a spectrogram, proves that the Newfoundlander English Speaker, in Figure 2, produced a light [l] when producing the word “steel” and a dark [ɫ] when producing the word “able.” 

Figure 2: Spectrograms comparing the light /l/ in the phrase “steel assets” and dark /l/ in the word “able” from the phrase “feel able.” These samples were taken from an individual Newfoundlander English speaker.

Figure 3 shows how often a speaker of “standard '' North American English would utilize a light /l/ and when they would use a dark /l/. It also shows the position in which this occurs. This data is being compared to speakers of Newfoundlander English utilizing the same word list. As demonstrated in this figure, there is a significant difference in the positional realization of the allophone /l/ in “standard '' North American English from Newfoundlander English but there are also similarities in the position in which certain allophones appear. 

Figure 3: Comparison of how often SAE and Newfoundlander English realize a dark or light /l/.

By viewing and analyzing the data collected, my hypothesis was accepted to be true. Newfoundlander English speakers demonstrated the positional variation of the light /l/ in the word final position at a much higher rate than “standard” American English speakers. It is important to note that other aspects of a speaker's identity may impact the frequency in which they produce a realization. Not all these factors were specifically addressed during my data analysis, such as gender or sexuality, but would be an interesting continuation of my research. Further accumulation of data would allow for there to be a more thorough analysis of how demographics affect phoneme occurrence. I did find however a connection between generation and the rate at which the speaker is utilizing the word-final light /l/. The data shows that older generations (65 -75 year olds) produce a light /l/ more frequently in word final position when compared to younger generations (35-45 year olds). This can be due to the growing access to social media and more “standard language.” As generations have more contact with the mainland and technology, a change in language can be observed. The data presented throughout this analysis demonstrated the immense amount of linguistic diversity that exists within the island of Newfoundland and how closely connected it is to the island’s history. Viewing the pronunciation and realization of the /l/ phoneme offers a small glimpse into the incredible amount of variation found in Newfoundlander English.

Header image credit: photo taken by Kiney Rex

3.2. Acoustic Aspects of Consonants - Corpus.

Decker, Paul De, and Sara Mackenzie. “Tracking the Phonological Status of /L/ in Newfoundland English: Experiments in Articulation and Acoustics.” Scitation, Acoustical Society of America ASA, 1 Jan. 1970,