Root harmony, and more support for the "previous vowel" analysis

We have been discussing a phenomenon of vowel harmony in which a vowel's specification for the feature [back] and sometimes LABIAL is determined by the immediately preceding vowel. So far, we have focused on the behavior of vowels in suffixes. However, to be thorough, we should ask whether only suffix vowels assimilate to these features, or whether we find evidence for assimilation in bare root morphemes as well. In root morphemes, we see no surface alternations in vowel quality. However, in roots of more than one syllable (we'll stick with disyllabic roots here), there are strong tendencies for certain vowels to co-occur only with certain other vowels, and the patterns we find are generally consistent with the analysis of vowel harmony we developed above. In general - and this is especially true of native Turkish roots - nonlow vowels co-occurring within the same root agree for the features [back] and LABIAL. Examples appear in (21).

(21) Root harmony

a. Back Round b. Back Unround
bond͡ʒuk 'bead' adam 'man'
boru 'pip' kapɨ 'door'
ojun 'game' balta 'axe'
okul 'school' sabɨr 'patience'
mutlu 'happy'
c. Front Round d. Front Unround
cøpry 'bridge' cedi 'cat'
ødyl 'gift' bilet 'ticket'
minic 'small and nice'
sebze 'vegtable'
t͡ʃit͡ʃec 'flower'

These co-occurrence restrictions (agreement for [back] and for LABIAL) do not account for all attested patterns in Turkish, as exceptions do exist. One kind of exception, illustrated in (22), occurs quite regularly with the low vowel [a], which combines fairly freely with other vowels. This pattern is attested in loan words (for example citap, a loan from Arabic), and also occurs with native forms.

(22) Exceptions with [a]

dikkat 'care' elma 'apple'
citap 'book' palto 'overcoat'
balo 'ball' oda 'room'
ufak 'small' orman 'forest'

Put another way, any vowel may co-occur with [a] in a root morpheme, but otherwise, when neither vowel in a root is [a], then all vowels must display [back]/LABIAL agreement. Some exceptions to [back]/LABIAL agreement do occur, but these cases represent a departure from the regular pattern. A few examples of so-called disharmonic roots are shown in (23).

(23) Examples of disharmonic roots

cøpec 'dog' jeton 'token'
ɟyzel 'beautiful'

For more reading

A basic and very accessible optimality theoretic (OT) account of Turkish vowel harmony can be found at:


For a more challenging OT account of vowel harmony and disharmony, see:

Krämer, M. (no date) A Correspondence Approach to Vowel Harmony and Disharmony. Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, unpublished manuscript; http://roa.rutgers.edu/files/293-0199/roa-293-kraemer-4.pdf.

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