Root vowel or previous vowel?

In our discussion so far, we have stated at times that a suffix vowel assimilates to the preceding vowel. Notice, however, that in every case we have seen so far, the "preceding vowel" that triggers assimilation is also the last vowel of the root morpheme. At this point, we should establish whether "preceding vowel" and "last vowel of the root" are in fact the same, or whether we need to be more explicit. That is, we should evaluate which of the two hypotheses in (17) is the correct one.

(17) a. A suffix vowel harmonizes with the vowel preceding it (first vowel to the left).
b. A suffix vowel harmonizes with the last vowel of the root morpheme.

In the examples seen so far, the vowel immediately preceding the harmonizing vowel has been the last vowel of the root, and so there has been no need to distinguish between these two potential cases. However, evidence for the position in (17a) is provided by the 2nd person genitive plural forms, which we reintroduce in (18). (There were originally presented in (2).)


Last Root V Nom Singular 2nd Gen Plural Gloss
[i] ip iplerin 'rope'
[e] el ellerin 'hand'
[y] jyz jyzlerin 'face'
[ø] cøj cøjlerin 'village'
[ɨ] kɨz kɨzlarɨn 'girl'
[a] t͡ʃan t͡ʃanlarɨn 'bell'
[u] pul pullarɨn 'stamp'
[o] son sonlarɨn 'end'

We can segment the genitive plural forms into sequences consisting of a nominal root followed by a plural allomorph -ler or -lar, followed by a genitive allomorph -ɨn or -in (for example: cøj-ler-in and k-ɨz-lar-ɨn). The plural morpheme /-lVr/ behaves as we expect it to - [a] after [+back] Vs, and [e] after [-back] Vs. However, the genitive morpheme, /-Vn/, has only two variants after the plural suffix: -ɨn and -in. In particular, we don't find round vowels in the genitive here, even though we know from our earlier discussion of Back/Labial harmony in genitive forms that two additional allomorphs -un and -yn are possible. Note that this is exactly what we expect if a suffix V harmonizes with the preceding vowel, whether or not it is in the root. If the high V in the genitive were harmonizing specifically with the last vowel of the root, we'd expect to find unattested forms like *cøj-ler-yn instead of cøj-ler-in. Thus, when the genitive suffix follows the plural suffix, the genitive always has [ɨ] or [i] because it is agreeing in backness and rounding with the vowel in the plural suffix.

What we see here in the genitive plural forms is a kind of harmony chain: a sequence of vowels is progressively affected by vowel harmony, each vowel assimilating to qualities of the vowel before it. A process that applies in this manner is called an iterative phonological process. Figure (19) illustrates this process schematically using the example cøjlerin

(16) Iterative vowel harmony (a dashed line indicates feature spread)

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