From: Asli Altan <asli_altantryahoo.com>
Subject: The Influence of Vowel Harmony on Turkish Native Speakers Learning an Artificial Language System
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Institution: Hacettepe University
Program: Department of English Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008
Author: Asli Altan
Dissertation Title: The Influence of Vowel Harmony on Turkish Native Speakers Learning an Artificial Language System
In this dissertation, we elicited speech errors by experiments and analysed
them to see what they reveal about vowel harmony (VH). The basic question
is whether VH helps speakers to learn an artificial language system. VH can
facilitate learning in two ways: ease in speech production or ease in
learning. The way we looked at this is by testing Turkish speakers and
analyse whether VH had an effect in learning the system.
In the experiments, learning effects in an artificial language was
analysed. The question of whether the subjects learned VH was tested in
three ways: first, the diversity and quantity of their speech errors;
second, by the test phase and third by analyzing the words subjects
remembered. In previous studies, it was attested that speech errors abide
by phonotactic rules of the language (Dell et al., 2000).
There were two conditions in the experiment. In the first condition, words
were categorized as either adhering to backness/rounding VH or not. There
were three groups in this condition. The first is the VH where the words
had vowels which were agreeing for backness and rounding. The second group
was disharmony and the third group was a mixed one. All the subjects were
given 180 non-sense words made according to the condition they were trained
on. They were then asked to read those words while they were recorded.
The second condition in the experiment was height harmony. Although Turkish
does not have this property, this condition was used to see whether Turkish
speakers would be able to learn this condition which is attested in many
other languages. There were again three groups under this condition: vowel
height harmony, height disharmony and mixed group.
There was also a test phase in all six conditions, where subjects were
tested whether they learned the condition they were trained on by choosing
the word that was similar to the words they saw before. In the last part of
the experiment, subjects were asked to write down the words they
remembered. The aim here was again to see whether the subjects learned the
rules (VH or disharmony) used to create the words they were trained on.
The results revealed that subjects abide by the conditions of the system
they were presented with in the experiment. Subjects preserved the system
they were trained on even in their speech errors. There were certain
patterns in the speech errors of subjects. This finding is valid for both
harmony and disharmony subjects. Mixed group subjects made more speech
errors. This underlies the finding that as long as there is a pattern
(whether harmony or disharmony) in the artificial language system, subjects
were able to learn it. However, a lack of pattern is difficult for the
When the results of height harmony subjects were compared to backness
harmony subjects, it was revealed that backness harmony subjects did
better. Since backness harmony was similar to the harmony in Turkish, it is
claimed that this similarity has an effect. Thus, the finding in previous
studies (Oh & Cole, 2006; Linebaugh, 2007) that backness/rounding harmony
is more of a facilitative nature than height harmony was also supported in
The findings in the test part and the words remembered part were also
parallel to the results in speech errors part. The backness/rounding
harmony subjects were more successful than other groups. It was observed
that height harmony was more difficult for Turkish subjects compared to
backness/rounding harmony. But the results of the mixed condition subjects
reveal that even vowel disharmony was easier than a lack of pattern. The
results point out to the fact that VH is a property that facilitates both
production and perception.
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