What’s the cause of the “Elmer Fudd” speech impediment where r’s and l’s come out as w’s?

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What’s the cause of the “Elmer Fudd” speech impediment where r’s and l’s come out as w’s?

In: Biology

When you’re speaking, you’re not just using your vocal cords. You also use your lips, your teeth, and your tongue to pronounce words. When one of these doesn’t work properly, you can’t properly pronounce sounds that rely on that part of your body.

The reason L and R are often mispronounced is because they need you to precisely control your tongue. If you can’t do that, maybe because of a disease or maybe because you just didn’t practice enough, your tongue will be in the wrong position and you’ll say something similar to a W instead.

Imagine you’re saying the word ‘peel’. The P is pretty easy to pronounce – you close your lips for a split second, build up a little air in your mouth, and let it explode out all at once. The ‘ee’ is also easy – you close your mouth halfway and just let the sound come out.

The L is harder, though. You need to gently press your tongue against your teeth so it almost, but not totally, covers them. This is a lot harder than popping a P or squeezing out the ‘ee’. Try pronouncing ‘peels’, but keep your tongue perfectly still. It sounds a lot like a certain Nimrod!

The American R is even harder. Not only do you need to bunch the back of your tongue up, but you also need to clench your teeth and let a tiny bit of air out of your throat. If you don’t clench your jaw, your R sounds like a British R, more like an “ahh” than an “arr”. If your tongue isn’t bunched up enough or your throat is too open, you make a W sound instead of an R.

The S sound is also hard for the same reason. Your tongue needs to be positioned just right to let out a little hiss of air. If it’s even a little bit out of position, you’ll say ‘peelth’ or ‘peelf’ instead of ‘peels’.

Because of how difficult these sounds are to make, they’re really common speech disorders.