LINGUIST List 15.1267

Tue Apr 20 2004

Review: Phonology: Kr�mer (2003)

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  1. Eric Bakovic, Vowel Harmony and Correspondence Theory

Message 1: Vowel Harmony and Correspondence Theory

Date: Mon, 19 Apr 2004 13:23:29 -0700
From: Eric Bakovic <>
Subject: Vowel Harmony and Correspondence Theory

AUTHOR: Kr�mer, Martin
TITLE: Vowel Harmony and Correspondence Theory
SERIES: Studies in Generative Grammar 66
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2003
Announced at:

Eric Bakovic, University of California, San Diego


The topic of this book is the analysis of various aspects of vowel
harmony within Optimality Theory (OT; Prince & Smolensky 1993/2002),
with particular attention to the Correspondence Theory of faithfulness
(McCarthy & Prince 1995, 1999). The empirical and analytical issues
addressed in the book are all ones that have received substantial
attention in the vowel harmony literature regardless of theoretical
orientation, but the author's overall approach differs in many
interesting ways from previous work.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I, "The phenomenon and the
theoretical background", contains three chapters. Chapter 1
introduces various aspects of vowel harmony, highlighting those that
are the focus of the book (see the summary of Part II below). Chapter
2 introduces OT and the particular types of constraints to be
crucially employed in the remainder of the book: positional
faithfulness, syntagmatic identity, and (three types of) "coordinated"
constraints. Chapter 3 is a preview of how specific examples of some
of the empirical phenomena introduced in Chapter 1 will be analyzed in
Part II of the book with the constraint types introduced in Chapter 2.

Part II, "Case Studies", also contains three chapters plus a general
concluding chapter. Each of the substantive chapters addresses a
coherent cluster of empirical phenomena, with detailed analyses of
examples from a variety of languages. Chapter 4 addresses
directionality and its (hypothesized) morphological
underpinnings. Chapter 5 addresses vowel transparency. Chapter 6
addresses the problem of vowels that are specified for a harmonic
feature value that is the opposite of the value that they impose on
other vowels. (The author dubs these vowels 'Trojan' vowels, a useful
moniker that I will adopt in this review.) Parasitic harmony -- a
situation in which harmonizing vowels must already share some feature
- is also discussed in Chapter 6, as a part of the extensive analysis
of the well-known complex interaction of vowel harmony and other
processes in Yawelmani Yokuts.

The final, concluding chapter summarizes the main points of the book
and comments on four major theoretical themes: serialism,
underspecification, factorial typology, and functional motivation. In
addition to endnotes, a bibliography and an index, there is a useful
appendix of proposed constraints and their definitions as well as an
appendix of languages analyzed in the book (with details regarding
properties relevant to vowel harmony).

Apart from a few relatively minor changes, additions and omissions,
this book is essentially identical to the author's 2001 doctoral
dissertation of the same title.


There are four main empirical phenomena that the author chooses to
focus on in this book, and which I will also largely restrict my
attention to in this review:

1. Directionality.
Vowel harmony originates in a particular vowel (e.g., a vowel in the
root) and proceeds outward from there.

2. Transparent vowels.
Vowel harmony may ignore certain vowels, skipping over them and
affecting vowels on the other side.

3. Trojan vowels.
Certain vowels may condition harmony for the opposite value of the
harmonic feature with which they surface.

4. Parasitic harmony.
Neighboring vowels may harmonize only if they already agree in terms
of another, attendant feature.

According to the abstract (pp. ix-x), the book's "central goal is to
give a unified account" of these four aspects of vowel harmony (and
some others) within OT. This goal is explicitly contrasted with
previous work on vowel harmony in OT, in which the author claims that
"a rich inventory of theoretical devices has been applied and
developed to explain various aspects of vowel harmony". Briefly, the
analyses proposed for the four phenomena above are:

1. Root-to-affix directionality is due to a distinction between root
and affix faithfulness constraints (Beckman 1998), with pairs of such
constraints ranked in such a way that root feature values are
preserved and extended at the expense of affix feature
values. Dominant-recessive harmony is due to local conjunction (LC,
violated only when both conjuncts are violated; Smolensky 1993, 1995)
of markedness and faithfulness constraints, as proposed by Bakovic
(2000). Other instances of directionality (morpheme-internal,
affix-to-root) are accounted for with other types of positional
faithfulness constraints, some of which are understood as logical
constraint conjunction (violated when either conjunct is violated;
Crowhurst & Hewitt 1997). (The author attempts to demonstrate on
pp. 85-86 that other positional faithfulness constraints might be
understood as cases of a third type of constraint coordination; the
example discussed, however, is unrelated to vowel harmony and the
matter is not discussed anywhere else in the book.)

2. Vowel transparency is due to an LC of two constraints: one
demanding that a vowel agree with neighboring vowels in terms of the
harmonic feature, and another demanding that a vowel disagree with
neighboring vowels in terms of the harmonic feature. The effect is
supposed to be that a vowel unable to agree with the harmony trigger
(for markedness reasons) will prefer to disagree with both neighbors
(the hallmark of transparency) than to initiate its own harmonic
domain (the hallmark of vowel opacity).

3. Trojan vowels are the result of an LC of two constraints: one
demanding output faithfulness to the input harmonic feature value, and
another demanding that a vowel disagree with neighboring vowels in
terms of the harmonic feature. The effect is supposed to be that a
vowel in a harmony- triggering position that is unable to surface with
its underlying harmonic feature value (for markedness reasons) will
prefer to disagree with its neighbors, the apparent result being that
the vowel triggers harmony with its underlying rather than surface
harmonic feature value.

4. Parasitic harmony is the result of an LC of two constraints: one
demanding that a vowel agree with neighboring vowels in terms of the
harmonic feature and another demanding that a vowel disagree with
neighboring vowels in terms of the attendant feature on which harmony
is parasitic. The effect is supposed to be that a vowel can *either*
disagree with its neighbors in terms of the harmonic feature *or*
agree with them in terms of the attendant feature, but not both.

The unification that the author claims to have achieved in this book
appears to be the central role of constraint coordination in each of
these cases, primarily in the form of LC. Close inspection of the
analyses proposed in the book reveals several serious complications,
particularly with the interaction of LCs. I address some of these
complications in what follows, arranged in order according to each of
the four main empirical phenomena already mentioned. None of these
complications is addressed in much depth here, due to space
limitations and the formal complexity of the issues.

I should add that as a person who also wrote a dissertation on vowel
harmony in OT and who also wrestled with the extremely complex (but
deceptively simple) ways in which LCs interact in an OT grammar, I am
simultaneously impressed with the book's analytical coverage and
sympathetic with the author's not having confronted many of these

1. Directionality.

Directionality is arguably the central concern of work on vowel
harmony and related phonological processes. (I will refrain from
citing any of the many relevant works here.) One of the most
difficult obstacles to a restrictive theory of directionality is the
ubiquitous tension with observed facts. In the case of vowel harmony,
any attempt to restrict directionality in a principled way can be
countered with a pattern that cannot be adequately described.

One recent proposal for restricting directionality in vowel harmony is
my own cyclic account (Bakovic 2000, 2003). This account downplays the
significance of morpheme-internal directionality and denies the
existence of (strictly) affix-to-root directionality. This proposal is
directly countered in the current book with the case of Futankoore
Pulaar (Fula; Paradis 1992), in which harmony appears to be best
described as proceeding leftward from the rightmost affix (see Hyman
2002 for other examples of right-to-left harmony that cannot be
interpreted cyclically). For the purposes of this review, I accept
that the Fula case is a direct counterexample to the claim that vowel
harmony is only either cyclic (stem-controlled) or dominant-recessive.

The account of Fula harmony proposed by the author requires three
distinct parts that individually contribute to the overall
right-to-left nature of the pattern:

(a)high ranking of a positional faithfulness constraint favoring the
rightmost vowel of a word (p. 140), to account for the fact that this
vowel is the trigger.

(b)low ranking (or absence) of any logical conjunctions favoring the
edgemost vowels of the root (p. 140), to account for the fact that
this vowel is a target.

(c)exceptional reversal of "the almost universal ranking" between two
positional faithfulness constraints (pp. 143-144), to account for the
fact that a vowel between the trigger and an opaque vowel agrees with
the trigger.

The last of these three crucial parts of the analysis is particularly
problematic. If this exceptional reversal did not hold of the grammar
of Fula, then a vowel between the trigger and an opaque vowel would
agree with the opaque vowel -- a pattern that is unattested in all
cases of vowel harmony, regardless of the relative positions of the
harmony trigger, the root, and the opaque vowel. The generalization
that appears to be necessary to capture is that harmony always
proceeds outward from the trigger; in other words, that the
directionality of harmony and the fate of a vowel trapped between the
trigger and an opaque vowel are two sides of the same fact, to be
captured with one analytical mechanism. This is not so in the author's
account of Fula.

I will not pretend here that my own account (Bakovic 2000, 2003) does
a better job of capturing this generalization; I think it succeeds
rather well with cases of root-to-affix directionality but admit that
it encounters problems in other cases (including Fula). But the
author's account of directionality in this book also fails to account
for the fate of a vowel trapped between two disagreeing opaque affix
vowels because it depends on the relative ranking of root and affix
faithfulness constraints. Root faithfulness is irrelevant in this kind
of case and there is a tie on affix faithfulness, so the fate of the
trapped vowel is predicted to fall to other constraints. But as
Anderson (1980) has shown with a relevant example from Turkish, the
fate of the trapped vowel should be determined by whatever mechanism
is responsible for the directionality of harmony.

2. Transparent vowels.

The author shows that the LC account of transparent vowels requires a
third conjunct in addition to those noted above: a markedness
constraint defining the set of transparent vowels. Without this, other
disharmonic vowels (e.g., vowels in disharmonic roots, or other vowels
in the same language that may be opaque rather than transparent) are
incorrectly predicted to behave transparently. The problem is that the
set of transparent vowels is already defined by a markedness
constraint against their harmonic counterparts, which are
independently absent from the vowel inventory of the language
(Kiparsky 1981). Because this is viewed as a coincidence in the
author's analysis, the prediction made is that there could be a
language in which only certain vowels in disharmonic roots behave
transparently (namely, those targeted by the markedness component of
the relevant LC), while all other disharmonic vowels behave
opaquely. Such a pattern appears to be unattested.

Another consequence of the author's proposal is that it distinguishes
a single transparent vowel from strings of more than one. Most
accounts of transparency predict that a string of transparent vowels
behaves just like a single one; a maximal string of transparent vowels
either agrees or disagrees with the vowels on either side. In the
author's proposal, each transparent vowel is evaluated independently
by the LC: each individual one must either agree or disagree with both
of its neighbors. Even in the simplest case of a string of two
transparent vowels, then, the only way to satisfy the LC is (i) for
the transparent vowels to become harmony triggers, enforcing their
harmonic feature value on their neighbors on both sides or (ii) for
the transparent vowels to alter their values of other features so that
they can (vacuously) satisfy the LC. For a string of transparent
vowels to differ in its behavior from a single one in either of these
two ways appears to be unattested.

What is attested -- though subject to a significant amount of
variation -- is a kind of variant of (i): a string of transparent
vowels may behave opaquely, enforcing their harmonic feature value on
their neighbors *but on the side opposite the harmony trigger
only*. The author claims that this "is perfectly accounted for in this
approach", and that the observed variation could be due to variability
of the domain assessed by the LC (pp. 166-167). The problem, of
course, is that the unattested cases above are also predicted to
exist, casting doubt on the overall account.

3. Trojan vowels.

The LC responsible for the behavior of Trojan vowels states: 'if
unfaithful, then disharmonic'. This has the desired effect, but only
if the feature mentioned by both parts of the Trojan LC is the
harmonic feature; if it is some other feature -- or if the language
has no harmony at all! -- then apparently random disharmony patterns
are expected to be caused by input vowels that must surface
unfaithfully due to constraints responsible for the vowel
inventory. This problem can perhaps be handled by imposing further
restrictions on the ranking of LCs with respect to other constraints,
but the solution is by no means obvious.

Given LCs demanding harmony or disharmony (responsible for
transparency) and LCs demanding faithfulness or disharmony
(responsible for Trojan vowels), what about LCs demanding faithfulness
or harmony? It isn't clear that such an LC would have any effect if it
mentions a feature that is otherwise harmonic, but it would be easily
discerned if it mentions a different feature: apparently random
harmony (rather than, as above, disharmony) patterns are expected to
be caused by input vowels that must surface unfaithfully due to
constraints responsible for the vowel inventory.

A Trojan LC must also be stipulated to apply only to those (input)
vowels that are independently missing from the surface vowel
inventory. As with transparency, this is accomplished with a third
part of the LC: a markedness constraint mirroring the one responsible
for the inventory. The arbitrariness of the coincidence in this case
is even more problematic than in the account of transparency, due to
the fact that another part of a Trojan LC is a faithfulness
constraint. The problem is that vowels in positions that are targets
of harmony (e.g., affixes) may violate faithfulness when they undergo
harmony, which makes them potentially vulnerable to the Trojan
LC. Again, random patterns of harmony and/or disharmony are expected
by vowels attempting to avoid violation of the Trojan LC.

This last problem is particularly apparent in a comparison between the
analyses of Trojan vowels in Hungarian (p. 188ff) and those in Yoruba
(p. 200ff). In Hungarian, Trojan vowels are some instances of [i] and
[e] (disregarding vowel length), and the [+back] harmonic counterparts
of these vowels are independently missing from the surface vowel
inventory. In Yoruba, Trojan vowels are some instances of [i] and [u]
(disregarding nasality), and the [-ATR] harmonic counterparts of these
vowels are independently missing from the surface vowel inventory. The
Trojan behavior in each case is accounted for in the manner proposed
by the author: (i) by assuming that the Trojan vowels are underlyingly
specified with the opposite value of the harmonic feature than they
surface with and (ii) with an LC that takes advantage of the fact that
these vowels will independently surface unfaithfully, and requiring
vowels adjacent to an unfaithful Trojan vowel to disagree with the
Trojan vowel.

In the case of Hungarian, there is little more that needs to be said;
because the same vowels [i] and [e] are transparent in harmony target
positions, they fortuitously satisfy the Trojan LC whether or not they
are underlyingly [-back] or [+back]. In Yoruba, however, [i] and [u]
are opaque in harmony target positions and thus either satisfy the
Trojan LC (if they happen to be underlyingly [+ATR]) or violate it (if
they are underlyingly [-ATR]). This forces the author to redefine the
Trojan LC for Yoruba (pp. 206-207) such that the faithfulness conjunct
only refers to the harmony trigger position. The prediction, of
course, is that there could be a pattern in which some of the relevant
vowels are opaque while others are transparent, depending on their
underlying source. This is unattested. Not only does the markedness
conjunct of a Trojan LC accidentally refer to gaps in the surface
vowel inventory, it must also duplicate an independently necessary
definition of the harmony trigger in languages like Yoruba with opaque

4. Parasitic harmony.

The analysis of parasitic harmony depends on a condition noted in
passing on p. 109: that faithfulness to the attendant feature must be
ranked higher than faithfulness to the harmonic feature. The opposite
ranking of these constraints would result in a case in which a
parasitic LC would be preferably satisfied by a change in the
attendant feature. (This consequence is noted by the author, again in
passing, on p. 220.) A case of this type -- which may be characterized
as dissimilation in terms of one feature only when there is already
disagreement in terms of another, or 'parasitic dissimilation' -- is
not attested.

It is worth noting at this point that the common denominator of all of
the LCs discussed above is a constraint directly demanding
disagreement in terms of some feature, and this is arguably the source
of much of the problems noted with these LCs. This is perhaps
expected, since there is very little evidence for constraints
demanding disagreement in terms of some feature in any case: to my
knowledge, there exists no language in which every vowel disagrees
with its neighbors, such that the result is an unbounded alternating
sequence of vowels. Actual cases of dissimilation do require an
account, but an account in terms of a dissimilation constraint of the
 type assumed by the author in the proposed LCs is bound to
predict cases of the unattested type outlined here.


I began my critical evaluation by drawing attention to the author's
goal (stated in the book's abstract) of providing a unified analysis
of four aspects of vowel harmony, among others: directionality,
transparency, Trojan vowels, and parasitic harmony. Throughout the
book, the particular analyses proposed are contrasted with others
found in the literature in terms of alignment, cyclicity, neutrality,
privativity/underspecification, targeted constraints, floating
features, sympathy theory, optimal domains theory, etc. The
extraordinary variety of alternatives discussed makes it easier to
accept the claim that the author's account in terms of positional
faithfulness and local conjunction is in fact the most unified account
to date. Two considerations need to be kept in mind, however.

First, very little of the previous work on vowel harmony has as its
analytical goal a grand unified theory of vowel harmony. Most of the
work that the author directly challenges addresses some particular
aspect or aspects of vowel harmony, often within a single language or
very small group of languages, and with the more modest goal of
accommodating the analysis of the facts into a larger framework of
assumptions. It is thus appropriate for the author to contrast his
approach to a particular phenomenon with previous approaches to the
same phenomenon; it is inappropriate, however, to conclude from a set
of such comparisons that previous approaches have failed to provide
unified analyses of the set of phenomena that the author has uniquely
chosen to unify.

Second, the unified analysis championed by the author is in many
respects at odds with fundamental assumptions of the framework in
which it is couched. One of the fundamental assumptions of OT is that
different constraint rankings are the primary source of
crosslinguistic variation (and the only such source for some). A
consequence of any OT analysis is that each of the possible rankings
of the constraints in the analysis should, at least in schematic form,
correspond to a (different) pattern in some other language.

This assumption and consequence is challenged in various places in the
book, most notably at the end of Chapter 4 (pp. 154-155) and in the
second-to-last section of the general conclusion (pp. 256-258). This
challenge -- that, like constraints themselves, constraint
interactions must serve some 'higher' functional purpose -- is
embodied here:

"The Bad Ranking Hypothesis: A constraint ranking is
counter-productive if it neither facilitates articulation nor
interpretation. Such grammars are avoided." (p. 155)

The problem with this challenge is not that it is wrong but rather
that it is unformalized. The author mentions such concepts as "general
strategies of information structuring", "facilitation of information
retrieval" and "maximisation of interpretability" without defining
them nor demonstrating how any of the undesirable constraint
interactions serve none of these purposes. Since functional motivation
appears to be a major underpinning of the proposal, the author has
missed an opportunity to propose an explicit theory of it.


Anderson, Stephen R. (1980) Problems and Perspectives in the
Description of Vowel Harmony. Issues in Vowel Harmony, ed. by
R. Vago, pp. 1-48. John Benjamins.

Bakovic, Eric (2000) Harmony, Dominance and Control. PhD thesis,
Rutgers University. [ROA-360.]

Bakovic, Eric (2003) Vowel Harmony and Stem Identity. San Diego
Linguistic Papers 1/2. Linguistics Department, UCSD, [ROA-540.]

Beckman, Jill (1998) Positional Faithfulness. PhD thesis, UMass
Amherst. Published 1999, Garland. [ROA-234.]

Crowhurst, Megan and Mark Hewitt (1997) Boolean operations and
constraint interaction in optimality theory. ROA-229.

Hyman, Larry (2002) Is there a right-to-left bias in vowel
harmony? Presented at 9th International Phonology Meeting.

Kiparsky, Paul (1981) Vowel Harmony. Ms., MIT.

McCarthy, John and Alan Prince (1995) Faithfulness and Reduplicative
Identity. Papers in Optimality Theory, ed. by J. Beckman, S. Urbanczyk
and L. Walsh Dickey, pp. 249-384. UMass Occasional Papers in
Linguistics 18. [ROA-60.]

McCarthy, John and Alan Prince (1999) Faithfulness and Identity in
Prosodic Morphology. The Prosody-Morphology Interface, ed. by
R. Kager, H. van der Hulst, and W. Zonnefeld,
pp. 218-309. CUP. [ROA-216.]

Paradis, Carole (1992) Lexical Phonology and Morphology: The Nominal
Classes in Fula. Garland.

Prince, Alan and Paul Smolensky (1993/2002) Optimality Theory:
Constraint Interaction in Generative Grammar. ROA-537. [In press,

Smolensky, Paul (1993) Harmony, markedness, and phonological
activity. ROA-87.

Smolensky, Paul (1995) On the structure of the constraint component
Con of UG. ROA-86.


Eric Bakovic is an assistant professor in the Linguistics Department
at the University of California, San Diego. His research interests
include phonological theory, vowel harmony, and Spanish phonology and
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