Posted by Neal on August 30, 2004
The first time I heard this, is was passingly weird. But now I’ve heard it twice, and I want to know what’s going on. In a scene in the movie Ice Age, a sloth character needs to fake his own death in front of some enemies. He does this by jumping into a saber-toothed tiger’s mouth and shouting, “Help! Help!” Both times when he yells “Help!”, he uses clear /l/ rather than velarized /l/ (a distinction discussed earlier here). It’s very distinct; it’s what makes his cries sound so fake and melodramatic. Why it should do that, I don’t know, other than that it makes his pronunciation sound unnatural, foreign.
More recently, Doug and Adam were watching a Fairly Oddparents video, with an episode called “Crime Wave.” Here, too, someone who was faking a call for help used the clear /l/ to do it. Why the correlation between deliberately corny melodrama and clear /l/? Is the idea just to violate some phonological rule of English to draw attention to the utterance?