171: The silent l in the word 'salmon'

Even words we don't use often still matter.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 171st episode.

I talked about silent letters back in podcast episode 156, but I want to revisit the topic today because one of my students recently had trouble with the silent l in the word salmon. The word salmon is spelled s-a-l-m-o-n, but is pronounced salmon. Small pronunciation errors like saying a silent letter are usually passed over by listeners. Saying a letter that should be silent doesn't usually interfere with communication, so it's really not a very big deal. Unfortunately, for my student, though, her error happened at exactly the wrong time. You see, my hard-practicing student had just told her boss that she is taking English pronunciation lessons. To show her boss what she had learned, when the two of them went to lunch later that day, she ordered the salmon. She wanted to demonstrate how nice and clear her l sound had become since taking lessons. Unfortunately, she did say the l sound perfectly, and was then told by her boss that the l is silent in the word salmon.

(Now,) the word salmon isn't a very high-frequency word, so I don't usually cover it in class with my students. However, this isn't the first time that one of my students has had a very notable experience when pronouncing the l in that word. So today, as a public service announcement to all of you who enjoy ordering salmon off the menu at restaurants, I'm going to tell: do not say the l sound in the word salmon. This isn't just an American thing either, the Cambridge Dictionaries Online website does not include an l sound for the British pronunciation either.

Since many of you don't live where salmon is as common of a food as it is here in the Pacific Northwest, I thought I'd review other words, high-frequency and not, that have a silent l.

First, let's talk about words are words that are high-frequency. I'm taking these words directly from the free Pronuncian lesson that lists the high-frequency words that have silent letters. I'll link to that lesson from this episode's transcript page. You can find all of our transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Pronuncian is spelled p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n. You can also easily find the lesson by searching "silent letters" using the search box on Pronuncian.

Here are the most frequently used words that have a silent l:


Other words that are not very frequent, but also have a silent l include:

calf/calves (c-a-l-f and c-a-l-v-e-s)
caulk (c-a-u-l-k)
solder (s-o-l-d-e-r)
halve (h-a-l-v-e, which is the verb form of half h-a-l-f)
folk (f-o-l-k)
yolk (y-o-l-k, as in the yellow park of an egg)

The word colonel, spelled c-o-l-o-n-e-l has one of the least intuitive pronunciations we have in modern English, which makes it kind of a fun word in its own right. The o-l-o part of the word is simply pronounced as schwa+r, giving us colonel. I'll include a transcription for this word in the transcripts, so you can see that, if it helps. /ˈkɚ nəl/.

Do you have any stories of a mispronunciation that was embarrassing or that happened at exactly the wrong time? Tell us about it! Send an email to podcast@pronuncian.com. Or tell us through Twitter (www.twitter.com/pronuncian) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/englishassembly). Quite likely, someone else could learn from your mistake, and maybe we can all have a little laugh at the same time. I think everyone knows that laughing at yourself is an important part of language learning!

That's all for today, everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world come to learn.

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.