Vowel harmony

Vowel harmony

Vowel harmony is a type of "long-distance (see below)" assimilatory phonological process involving vowels in some languages. In languages with vowel harmony, there are constraints on what vowels may be found near each other.


Harmony processes are "long-distance" in the sense that the assimilation involves sounds that are separated by intervening segments (usually consonant segments). In other words, "harmony" refers to the assimilation of sounds that are "not" adjacent to each other. For example, a vowel at the beginning of a word can trigger assimilation in a vowel at the end of a word. The assimilation sometimes occurs across the entire word. This is represented schematically in the following diagram:

:In the Finnish language, there are three classes of vowelsndash "front", "back", and "neutral", where each front vowel has a back vowel pairing. Grammatical endings such as case and derivational endingsndash but not encliticsndash have only archiphonemic vowels, which are realized as either A, U, O or Ä, Y, Ö, but never both, inside a single word. From vowel harmony it follows that the initial syllable of each single (non-compound) word controls the frontness or backness of the entire word. Non-initially, the neutral vowels are transparent to and unaffected by vowel harmony. In the initial syllable:
# a back vowel causes all non-initial syllables to realize with back (or neutral) vowels, e.g. "pos+ahta+(t)a" → "posahtaa"
# a front vowel causes all non-initial syllables to realize with front (or neutral) vowels, e.g. "räj+ahta+(t)a" → "räjähtää".
# a neutral vowel acts like a front vowel, but does not control the frontness or backness of the word: if there are back vowels in non-initial syllables, the word acts like it began with back vowels, even if they come from derivational endings, e.g. "sih+ahta+(ta)" → "sihahtaa" cf. "sih+ise+(t)a" → "sihistä"

For example:
* "kaura" begins with back vowel → "kauralla"
* "kuori" begins with back vowel → "kuorella"
* "sieni" begins without back vowels → "sienellä" (not *"sienella")
* "käyrä" begins without back vowels → "käyrällä"
* "tuote" begins with back vowels → "tuotteeseensa"
* "kerä" begins with a neutral vowel → "kerällä"
* "kera" begins with a neutral vowel, but has a noninitial back vowel → "keralla"

Some dialects that have a sound change opening diphthong codas also permit archiphonemic vowels in the initial syllable. For example, standard 'ie' is reflected as 'ia' or 'iä', controlled by noninitial syllables, in the Tampere dialect, e.g. "tiä" ← "tie" but "miakka" ← "miekka".

Vowel harmony is a grammaticalized feature of phonotactics, thus it may not work as expected from pure phonology, as evidenced by "tuotteeseensa" (not *"tuotteeseensä"). Even if phonologically front vowels precede the suffix "-nsa", grammatically it is preceded by a back vowel-controlled word. As shown in the examples, neutral vowels make the system unsymmetrical, as they are front vowels phonologically, but leave the front/back control to any grammatical front or back vowels. There is little or no change in the actual vowel quality of the neutral vowels.

As a consequence, Finnish speakers often have problems with pronouncing foreign words which do not obey vowel harmony. For example, "olympia" is pronounced "olumpia". The position of some loans is unstandardized (e.g. "chattailla"/"chättäillä" ) or ill-standardized (e.g. "polymeeri", "autoritäärinen", which violate vowel harmony). Where a foreign word violates vowel harmony by not using front vowels because it begins with a neutral vowel, then last syllable counts. For example, "Olympiassa"ndash the initial syllable "o-" would require the final vowel to be "-ä", but there is an intervening "-y-", so that the final "-a" counts.

With respect to vowel harmony, compound words can be considered separate words. For example, "syyskuu" ("autumn month" i.e. September) has both "u" and "y", but it consists of two words "syys" and "kuu", and declines "syys·kuu·ta" (not *"syyskuutä"). The same goes for enclitics, e.g. "taaksepäin" "backwards" consists of the word "taakse" "to back" and "-päin" "-wards". If fusion takes place, the vowel is harmonized by some speakers, e.g. "tälläinen" pro "tällainen" ← "tämän lainen".


Vowel types

Mongolian is similar. Front vowels in Mongolian are considered feminine, while back vowels are considered masculine.


In vowels in suffixes must harmonize with either IPA|/u/ or its non-IPA|/u/ counterparts or with IPA|/ɔ/ or non-IPA|/ɔ/ counterparts. For example, the vowel in the aorist suffix appears as IPA|/u/ when it follows a IPA|/u/ in the root, but when it follows all other vowels it appears as IPA|/i/. Similarly, the vowel in the nondirective gerundial suffix appears as IPA|/ɔ/ when it follows a IPA|/ɔ/ in the root; otherwise it appears as IPA|/a/.

If flat consonants do not occur in a word, then all vowels will be of the non-flat class:

Other languages of this region of North America (the Plateau culture area), such as St'át'imcets, have similar vowel-consonant harmonic processes.

Languages with vowel harmony

* Altaic languages
* Hungarian language
* Finnish language
* Uralic languages
* Turkic languages
* Korean language


ee also

* Consonant harmony
* Metaphony
* Germanic umlaut
* I-mutation


* Jacobson, Leon Carl. (1978). "DhoLuo vowel harmony: A phonetic investigation". Los Angeles: University of California.
* Krämer, Martin. (2003). "Vowel harmony and correspondence theory". Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
* Li, Bing. (1996). "Tungusic vowel harmony: Description and analysis". The Hague: Holland Academic Graphics.
*Harvard reference
chapter=On the Nature of Vowel Harmony: Spreading with a Purpose
title=Proceedings of the XXXIII Incontro di Grammatica Generativa

* Shahin, Kimary N. (2002). "Postvelar harmony". Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub.
* Smith, Norval; & van der Hulst, Harry (Eds.). (1988). "Features, segmental structure and harmony processes" (Pts. 1 & 2). Dordrecht: Foris. ISBN 90-6765-399-3 (pt. 1), ISBN 90-6765-430-2 (pt. 2 ) .
* Vago, Robert M. (Ed.). (1980). "Issues in vowel harmony: Proceedings of the CUNY Linguistic Conference on Vowel Harmony, 14th May 1977". Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.
* Vago, Robert M. (1994). Vowel harmony. In R. E. Asher (Ed.), "The Encyclopedia of language and linguistics" (pp. 4954-4958). Oxford: Pergamon Press.

External links

* [http://www.hungarianreference.com/Vowel-Harmony.aspx HungarianReference.com: section on vowel harmony in Hungarian] - Hungarian grammar guide.

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