Maybe you are hearing the contrast in Russian that exists between velarized l (which, as far as I can tell, is the typical/standard pronunciation; it's certainly how we were taught to pronounce it in Russian classes, with a Muscovite professor) and palatalized l?
You don't? After a second I realised I should not be surprised. English have also some sounds which you consider to be different and we do not.
Yes, I hear the palatal/non-palatal (velarized) distinction in Russian. It's kind of hard not to, after 6-7 years of study. My point was that the distinction in Russian is between velarized (the "normal" Russian L) and palatalized (ль/lj
), whereas there is no such distinction in English, so you are primed for hearing it in one and not the other, since the other half of the distinction that you're used to hearing is missing in English. It's just a guess, but experiments that I have done, e.g., contrasting perception of x (I can't put that in brackets as I would without messing up the html of this post and creating a bullet point, but that's meant to be a voiceless velar fricative) and [h] by native English speakers exposed to Egyptian Arabic speech samples, seems to suggest that such things are possible. In that experiment, sounds that are not normally contrastive in English (x and [h]) suddenly became very
salient to the participants in the (sociological/impressionistic) environment of "guy with a funny accent", and suddenly the respondents were marking x's all over the place, at a much higher rate than they actually appeared in the stimuli. In other words, they were primed to hear a contrast where there wasn't one. So I have to assume, based on that, that the opposite is also possible: If you do not hear in English the kind of contrast you're used to hearing in Russian, you might mistakenly "under-count" the prevalence of the velarized L in the environment of "guy who cannot distinguish between 'regular' (velarized) consonant and non-velarized (palatalized) consonant", because of course those sounds aren't
contrastive in English. But that doesn't mean the variants, or at least one half of them (the velarized L) aren't produced as allophones of 'clear' L in particular environments.
I also thought the "palatalized" (I knew what that word means ) pronunciation was the standard one (I mean standard for those funny phonetic symbols) however it's less used in Russia for the letter л.
It's been a while since I took a Russian class or spoke the language in a natural setting, but this is not my understanding. Perhaps I have them reversed? (It would not much matter, for the purposes of our discussion, because the point is that either way they are contrastive in Russian.)