Vowel harmony

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The vowel harmony (also synharmonism ) is a phonological process in which several vowels are adjusted to one another with regard to certain characteristics.


Vowel harmony denotes the phenomenon that the vowel of the stem syllable determines the use of certain vowels in the syllables that follow the word and in the enclitics . Vowel harmony primarily makes sense for agglutinating languages, as these work with endings (suffixes). It is a characteristic phonetic law in the Finno-Ugric languages and the Turkic languages .

In a broader sense, vowel harmony is any adjustment of vowels to the place of articulation or the type of articulation of another vowel. So it is a matter of an assimilation process . The emergence of umlauts in Germanic languages falls into this category of an assimilation process, not vowel harmony in the narrower sense.

Like other assimilation processes, the process is tied to specific domains, in most cases to the phonological word . In some languages ​​it can happen that only certain vowels harmonize while others are transparent to the process, which means that these vowels are not subject to the process of vowel harmony.

In most cases, the vowel harmony affects the characteristics rounded / unrounded or closed / open .

Examples of vowel harmony


In Turkish there are two different allomorphs to indicate the plural , namely -ler and -lar . The choice of the allomorph depends on the last vowel in the preceding syllable: -lar follows a, ı, o and u; -ler on e, i, ö and ü. For example, it is called “ev - evler” (house - houses), but “kitap - kitaplar” (book - books). The same applies to the ending -mek (gelmek - to come) or -mak (konuşmak - to speak) indicating the infinitive of a verb . This represents the so-called small vowel harmony (küçük sesliler uyumu) .

Rule of thumb: Letters with dots above (ö, ü, i and additionally e [see e = ä]) in the last syllable are given the ending -ler or -mek.

The Great Vowel harmony (büyük sesliler uyumu) distinguishes four instead of two cases: in the suffix will not be a or e , but i , ı , u or u used, according to the following rule:

i after i, e
ı after ı, a
ü after ü, ö
u after u, o


Finnish has three classes of vowels:

  1. soft vowels: ä, ö, y
  2. hard vowels: a, o, u
  3. easy vowels: i, e

According to the rule, vowels from group 3 can be combined with vowels from one of the other two groups. Vowels of groups 1 and 2, however, cannot appear in the same word. This means that formations like tyttö , katselmus and lyönti comply with the phonotactic rules of Finnish, whereas * kätselmus and * tytto do not.

This rule can be violated with compositions; the suffixes are then adapted to the last part. If only vowels of group 3 occur in the word, the suffix is ​​usually used for the first group.


High e é i í ö O ü ű
Deep a á - - O O u ú

Hungarian has "high" and "low" vowels. The basic rule is that words with low vowels have deep endings ( kar ba - in your arm), words with high vowels have high endings ( kéz be - in your hand). Words with mixed vowels usually have deep endings (balek nak - the bullfinch).

Vowel harmony is also used in verb conjugation. (lát ok - I see, néz ek - I look).

The vowels i and í have a special position. They are high, but if they are in the last syllable of a "deep" word, the ending usually stays low (baki nak - the carver, pipi nek - the piss). For more information on the Hungarian form of the vowel harmony, see: Hungarian grammar .


As a Turkic language like Turkish, Tatar also has a pronounced vowel harmony, which affects suffixes and postpositions: bala-lar - children , äni-lär - mothers ; bala-sı - his child , äni-se - his mother ; bala-sız-lı - childless , äti-sez-le - fatherless .

dark Bright
a / а [ʌ] ä / ә [æ]
ı / ы [ɯ] e / е, э [ɘ]
í / ый [ɯɪ] i / и [i]
o / о [ɵ] ö / ө [œ ~ ʏ]
u / у [ʊ] ü / ү [ʉ]

Other languages

Languages ​​with vowel harmony include B. Turkic languages , Finno-Ugric languages , Mongolian languages , Tungusic languages , Arabic , Korean (according to some theories belonging to or descended from the Tungusic languages), but also some African languages ​​such as Tangal and some Bantu languages . The Estonian language, which is very similar to Finnish, has no vowel harmony.


Web links

Wiktionary: Vowel harmony  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Short grammar of the Finnish language by VR Kockström. Edited from Swedish by K. Suomalainen. Helsingfors, 1876, p. 4