The productivity of Finnish vowel harmony: An analysis of disharmonic words
Mahonen, Kirsta Elisabeth
MetadataShow full item record
Finnish has a largely productive front/back vowel harmony system. Harmony constraints apply to native words and harmonic loans. However, some recent loans have entered the lexicon with both front and back harmonic vowels within a stem. These disharmonic loans violate Finnish vowel harmony constraints. For harmonic words, alternating suffix vowels match the harmony of the stem. Disharmonic loans have more variation in suffix vowel choice; this is reflected in the emergence of special suffix harmony rules for these words. This study used spoken and questionnaire data to explore the current state of the Finnish vowel harmony system. Suffix harmony was examined for native, loan, and nonce words with harmonic and disharmonic stems. In a spoken production experiment, most words were found to have suffix vowels that matched the harmony of the last non-neutral vowel of the stem. However, the disharmonic words with a back vowel followed by the front harmonic vowel [y] (e.g. analyysi ‘analysis’) had the most suffix vowel F2 variation. In these words, when [y] was stressed it had significantly higher F2s as well as significantly higher suffix vowel F2s than when it was unstressed. The front harmonic vowel [ø] also varied in this manner. The quality of [æ], the remaining front harmonic vowel, did not vary by stress. This vowel was also stressed most often in disharmonic words. When the data were examined by age group, the older speakers treated the three front harmonic vowels similarly, whereas the two younger age groups treated [y] and [ø] more like neutral vowels. This suggests a possible diachronic change in the harmonic categories. In a written questionnaire experiment, speakers reported lower quality-of-fit ratings for their suffix vowel choices and more flexible suffix harmony rules for the disharmonic words. The disharmonic back- y words had the lowest reported suffix vowel confidence and speakers reported that nearly half of the ! words could take either suffix vowel. The results of this study suggest that in disharmonic loans, the vowels [y] and [ø] are losing harmonic vowel status. Any disruption of the front and back harmonic vowel pairs would significantly reduce the scope of the vowel harmony system. The Finnish system is discussed in relation to other front/back vowel harmony systems of differing degrees of productivity.