Gweydr Vowel Harmony

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Just kidding. Vowel harmony. For those only familiar with Turkish-style vowel harmony, à la Zhyler, Gweydr should seem very different. For those familiar with Finnish, Hungarian and Leggbò, though, it should be a walk in the park.

An Overview

Gweydr has two varieties of vowel harmony working for it: Back harmony (perhaps better understood as front harmony), and ATR harmony. A question one might ask: What does ATR stand for? It could stand for "Americans Terrorize Rwanda", or even "Another Toto Rip-off", but it doesn't: It stands for Advanced Tongue Root. What does that mean? Proceed to the next section to discover the answer!

What's [ATR] Mean?

Well, it applies to vowels. Think of the words "Pete" and "pit". When you pronounce "Pete", you might notice that the bottom part of your tongue feels a little tense. Familiarize yourself with this part of your tongue. Now pronounce "pit". You might notice that that part of your tongue you've just familiarized yourself with isn't doing as much work. That's the heart of the distinction. We call the vowel in "Pete" a [+ATR] vowel because your tongue root is advanced (doing work). We call the vowel in "pit" the [-ATR] version of the vowel in "Pete" because it's not doing as much work.

Many phoneticians agree (maybe a handful?) that all [-low] vowels have a [+ATR] and a [-ATR] version. As it turns out, all vowels have a [+ATR] version and a [-ATR] version! Heh, heh...

Well, not really. Gweydr thinks so, though. Thus, every vowel in Gweydr has a [+ATR] and a [-ATR] version. Perhaps a better way to think of it would be to refer to the [+ATR] vowels as tense, and the [-ATR] vowels as lax. Yeah, that'll work. Anyway, below you'll find the vowel chart on the phonology page reproduced, but with the romanized version of each vowel in parentheses to the right of the IPA letter. Here it is:

  Front Back
Unround Round
Tense Lax Tense Lax Tense Lax
High i (í) ɪ (i) y (û) ʏ (ü) u (ú) ʊ (u)
Mid e (é) ɛ (e) ø (ô) œ (ö) o (ó) ɔ (o)
Low æ (â) a (ä)     ɑ (á) ɐ (a)

Keep in mind which vowels are tense and which are lax, and how they're spelled in the romanization.

Now then. [ATR] harmony is a kind of vowel harmony whereby the [ATR] feature of a vowel spreads from one vowel to the next. What that means is that, in essence, all vowels in a word in Gweydr will either be tense or lax. There are a few exceptions, but I'll get to those later.

The best way to understand the system is to see it in action. So, let's start with a word like, čázótl, "boat". This is a tense vowel word because all the vowels in the word are tense. Now what if we wanted to say "boats"? Well, we'd need to add the plural suffix. The plural suffix (or at least the one that currently concerns us) has two versions: -iks and -íks. Which one do we use? That's right: The second one. The reason is that the [+ATR] feature from the last vowel in čázótl carries over to the suffix, and so we get čázótlíks, "boats".

We can see the same thing happening with [-ATR] vowels and prefixes. Take the word âmpû, "louse". This is a lax vowel word because all the vowels in the word are lax. Now let's say we want to put "louse" into the essive case. Again, we have to add an affix, but the prefix has two versions (that concern us): Äd- and âd-. We again use the tense version (the second one) to match with the [+ATR] feature of the first vowel in the word âmpû, giving us âdâmpû, "as a louse".

Now for an exception. Let's say we wanted to take the word moxtóws, "feather", and make it plural and put it in the terminative case. To do this, we need to add the terminative prefix and the plural suffix. Which versions do we add? Well, we add the lax version of the terminative prefix, and the tense version of the plural suffix. This is because a prefix looks to the first vowel to its right, and a suffix looks to the first vowel to its left. Thus, we get the form kimoxtówzíks.

Implicit in the previous example is something slightly important. Only tense vowels appear next to coda glides. That is, if a lax vowel has a glide inserted after it, it will becme a tense vowel. Also, a [-ATR] feature will be blocked by the [+ATR] feature of a vowel in a diphthong, and, from then on, the [+ATR] feature will spread to any affix added after the diphthong.

Okay, I think that's it. There are some other interesting things happening, but they don't show up in the romanization or orthography, only in phonetic transcription, so I won't remark on that issue. Now we can discuss Gweydr's back harmony.

Back Harmony

Perhaps the easiest way to understand the back harmony system of Gweydr is to think of Gweydr as having two distinct sets of vowels, which I'll call regular vowels and fronted vowels. Here's a couple of tables that show these sets of vowels:

  Regular Vowels
Front Back
High í, i ú, u
Mid é, e ó, o
Low   á, a
  Fronted Vowels
Unround Round
High í, i û, ü
Mid é, e ô, ö
Low â, ä  

A general rule is that any given word of Gweydr will contain only regular vowels or only fronted vowels. You may notice, though, that four vowels appear in both tables—specifically, the front, unround mid and high vowels. In this system, these vowels are considered neutral. That means (to a certain extend) they don't participate in back harmony. I'll qualify that remark in just a little bit.

For simplicity's sake, I've come up with a set of underspecified vowels that should help to explain the system more easily. In the table below, there are four columns. In the first column will appear the "name" of the underspecified vowel. This'll be a capital letter. In the second column is the variant (that is, the actual vowel) that occurs (either tense or lax, depending on the rules laid out above). The third column is reserved for the pair designation (basically, whether it's the regular version or the fronted version). In the last column will be the specific letters each variant occurs next to. Here's the table:

Underspecified Vowel Variant Pair Designation Occurs Next To
A á, a Regular á, a, é, e, í, i, ó, o, ú, u
â, ä Fronted â, ä, é, e, í, i, ô, ö, û, ü
O ó, o Regular á, a, í, i, ó, o, ú, u
ô, ö Fronted â, ä, í, i, ô, ö, û, ü
é, e Neutral é, e
U ú, u Regular á, a, é, e, ó, o, ú, u
û, ü Fronted â, ä, é, e, ô, ö, û, ü
í, i Neutral í, i

There are two major things happening in the chart above, and I'll do my best to explain them both.

First, you may notice that in the vowels listed in the "Occurs Next To" column, there are some duplicates. Looking just at the first underspecified vowel, A, the vowels é, e, í, and i occur in both environments. This is a symptom of the neutrality of the phonemes i and e in the Gweydr vowel harmony system. Basically, what it comes down to is this: If you attach an affix with an underspecified vowel to a word whose closest vowel is either e or i, you must look to the next vowel to determine what the value of the suffix vowel will be.

Here's an example. Take the word 'ílô, "creek". Say we wanted to put it into the Essive case. We'd need to add the prefix Ad- (that's an underspecified A). But which version do we use: Fronted or regular? The í gives us no help, so we need to move on the next vowel, which is a fronted vowel, and so we use the fronted version, and get âdílô, "as a creek".

The same goes for suffixes, as well as the vowel e. The only time that either i or e do anything is when they're the only vowel in the word. So, for example, if we wanted to put the word grí, "oak tree", into the Essive case, we'd add the prefix Al-. Since i is the only vowel, and since í is [-back], the version of the vowel used in the prefix is the fronted version, and so we get âlgrí, "as an oak tree". The same holds true for e.

The last thing going on with the vowel chart above also has to do with i and e. You may have noticed that the mid and high underspecified vowels have three variants to the low's two. This is because the two non-low underspecified vowels can participate in total harmony. What that means is that if the high underspecified vowel, for example, occurs next to a high value, it's value will be identical to that of the previous vowel. This only works when the vowels are of the same height (i.e., a high next to a high or a mid next to a mid). Here are a few examples using the Allative case prefix to illustrate:

  1. wO- + kórúná, "child" = kórúná, "to the child"
  2. wO- + kôy, "cloud" = kôy, "to the cloud"
  3. wO- + kweksin, "raven" = wekweksin, "to the raven"

Compare the above to when the Allative case prefix is added to a word beginning with a non-mid vowel:

  1. wO- + kázúr, "tooth" = kázúr, "to the tooth"
  2. wO- + þäksl, "fox" = ðäksl, "to the fox"
  3. wO- + búzóp, "heart" = búzóp, "to the heart"
  4. wO- + "ûzín, "spruce tree" = ûzín, "to the spruce tree"
  5. wO- + grí, "oak tree" = grí, "to the oak tree"
  6. wO- + yíldá, "evening" = yíldá, "to the evening"

You can see a few of the rules discussed in the phonology section above. But the most important thing to take away is how non-low underspecified vowels will assimilate complete to a vowel of the same height, but will only assimilate partially to vowels of a different height.

Closing Remarks

As a final remark, I want to point out that a suffix or prefix can have one of two types of vowels: It can have an underspecified vowel (which we discussed above), or it can have a neutral vowel (i.e., e or i). When an affix has a neutral vowel, the vowel only participates in [ATR] harmony; never in back harmony. And that is all there is to know about vowel harmony in Gweydr.

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