Retroflex L (“Glottal” Back-Tongue /L/)

By Pam Marshalla

tongue back elevationQ: My client is having trouble with L. When he makes his L it sounds as though he is forming some type of constriction in the far back of his mouth. It almost sounds like a glottal stop, but it is not that far back. He can hear the error but cannot change it.

This has been called a “Retroflex L”. It means that the client is lifting the back of his tongue instead of the tip of his tongue for L. When you try to get him to lift the tip, he can, but he is lifting the back at the same time.

The way I work on this is to have the child practice vowel “Ah” a few times during which I teach him to make the oral-pharyngeal space very large and open and round… An operatic “Ah”, if you will.

Then tell him to keep saying “Ah” as he lifts the tip to the alveolus. If he keeps saying AH, he’ll be forced to abandon his tongue-back lifting action.

Other methods to teach a client to lower the back of the tongue include the following:

  • Have the client yawn while watching in a mirror. Have him observe how the back of the tongue goes down when he yawns. Help him take voluntary control of the movement. (This is a basic Van Riper technique.)
  • Have the client gag while watching in a mirror. Have him observe how the back of the tongue goes down when he gags. Help him take voluntary control of the movement. (This is a basic Marshalla technique.)
  • Have the client hold the base of his tongue with his hand. Teach him to voluntarily pull down the base of the tongue and lower the hyoid bone. (This is a basic traditional technique.)

2 thoughts on “Retroflex L (“Glottal” Back-Tongue /L/)”

  1. If the retroflex /l/ is not distorted, wouldn’t it be considered as appropriate an articulatory movement as a lifted tongue tip? In some cases perhaps it demonstrates the principle of physiological economy?

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