LINGUIST List 9.776

Mon May 25 1998

Sum: Dominant-Recessive Harmony

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Eric J. Bakovic, Summary: Dominant-Recessive Harmony

Message 1: Summary: Dominant-Recessive Harmony

Date: Sat, 23 May 1998 13:30:05 -0400 (EDT)
From: Eric J. Bakovic <>
Subject: Summary: Dominant-Recessive Harmony

Dear LINGUIST Listers,

A while back I posted a request for information about
dominant-recessive vowel harmony systems. I received a number of
responses for which I am very grateful; thanks to Jill Beckman, Chris
Beckwith, Roderic Casali, Dan Everett, Markus Hiller, Steven
McCartney, David Odden, Sheri Lyn Pargman, and Andrew Spencer for
taking the time to respond.

Below I've attached my original message followed by summary excerpts
from some of the responses. I hope you find this as useful as I have.

- Eric Bakovic

Original message:

I'm interested in dominant-recessive vowel harmony systems; that is,
ones in which the presence of a member of a one class of vowels (the
"dominant" class) anywhere in the word requires that all other vowels
in the word be members of that class.

A more-or-less familiar example is Nez Perce, in which the dominant
class is /i,a,o/ and the recessive class is /i,ae,u/. If a morpheme
anywhere in the word has a dominant vowel, all other vowels become
dominant (ae --> a, u --> o). References include Aoki 1966
(Language), Chomsky & Halle 1968 (SPE), and Hall & Hall 1980 (Issues
in Vowel Harmony, ed. by R. Vago).

If you know of any other such harmony systems, please reply with ...

 a. the name of the language
 b. a brief description of the system
 c. a bibliographical reference or two

... roughly as I have done above for Nez Perce.

If you happen to know of a language with a vowel harmony system that
is not exactly dominant-recessive but that has a vowel or class of
vowels that behaves in a dominant fashion (by imposing itself on all
other vowels regardless of its position in the word), this would be
very useful too.


From: "Daniel L. Everett" <>

You might want to have a look at pp413ff and p423 in my new grammar of
Wari', published by Routledge (Daniel L. Everet and Barbara
Kern. 1997. Wari': The Pacaas Novos language of Wester Brazil,
Routledge). There is some potentially interesting stuff there on vowel
harmony and coalescence.

- -----------------------
From: Jill Beckman <>

See Dimmendaal, Gert. 1983. The Turkana Language. Foris, Dordrecht.

- -----------------------
From: Dave Odden <>

I'd generally suggest looking at Siberian languages. The
Paleo-Siberian languages (Chukchi, Koryak, etc) seem to have a lot of
that kind of harmony, as do various Tungusic languages.

- -----------------------
From: A J Spencer <>

There's a good survey of this in the chapter by van der Hulst and van
de Weijer in Goldsmith's Handbook of Phonology.

There's a description of the Chukchee system in a 1979 thesis by
Krause [a student of Michael Kenstowicz]. The description is as

 Dom. Rec.
 I U
e o e

Schwa (and some morphemes with no underlying vowels at all) can
trigger dominant harmony as a lexical property. Schwa itself doesn't
alternate however, even when it doesn't itself trigger harmony.

There are postlexical assimilations affecting schwa (rounding and
palatalizing in the vicinity of labial consonants//j/) which make the
harmony opaque.

Unlike in many languages, VH in Chukchee takes the whole word as its
domain, even if that word is the result of (sometimes massive)
compounding (e.g. noun incorporation). Notice that /e/ belongs to
both groups.

- -----------------------
From: sheri lyn pargman <>

In the same volume containing the Hall & Hall paper that you cited in
your posting (Vago 1980), Stephen Anderson cites a few
languages/families that contain dominant/recessive harmony. These
include: "the Sahaptian languages(including Nez Perce), Luorawetlan
(including Chukchee), Diola Fogny, [and] the Kalenjin languages [...]"

- -----------------------
From: Chris Beckwith <>

Modern Spoken Tibetan, Lhasa dialect, has such a vowel harmony system.
There are several studies of it; one, I think, by R.K. Sprigg (U. of
London). I would check Chang KUN & Betty SHEFTS, Manual of Spoken
Tibetan, the best published source for Lhasa Tibetan material; you can
also probably find a description in Goldstein's Modern Spoken Tibetan,
Lhasa Dialect.

Basically, Tibetan has regressive vowel assimilation; the tendency is
for high vowels to raise low ones. So, pho"o" [Low Tone] 'Tibet' +
GEN -ki -> phu"u"ki. There are also examples (less frequent) of

- -----------------------

There are quite a few Nilo-Saharan languages which are described as
having dominant ATR vowel harmony systems in which (1) all root vowels
agree in their value of ATR and (2) a +ATR suffix will cause one or
more preceding -ATR root vowels to become +ATR. This may not be
exactly what you are looking for, in that the harmony is usually
strictly directional. One does not usually find cases in which a +ATR
prefix will cause a -ATR root to become +ATR. (Actually, I'm not sure
offhand whether to what extent these languages ever have +ATR prefixes
to begin with.) Also, I believe that in some languages spreading from
a +ATR suffix may not affect all of the vowels of a preceding -ATR
root, but only the last one. I'm not sure about this.

	Baka (Nilo-Saharan, Central Sudanic)

Parker, Kirk. 1985. Baka phonology. Occasional Papers in the Study of
Sudanese Languages 4:63-85. Juba: Summer Institute of Linguistics,
Institute of Regional Languages, and University of Juba.

"Baka vowel harmony is bidirectional: that is, a [+ATR] vowel anywhere
within the word, whether in the stem or an affix, causes the entire
word to be [+ATR] so that any [-ATR] vowels in the base form are
replaced by their corresponding [+ATR] vowels." (74)

	Bongo (Nilo-Saharan)

Kilpatrick, Eileen. 1985. Bongo phonology. Occasional Papers in the
Study of Sudanese Languages 4:1-62. Juba: Summer Institute of
Linguistics, Institute of Regional Languages, and University of Juba.

"[-ATR] vowels are much more frequent in roots than [+ATR] vowels.
However, the [+ATR] vowels prove to be the more dominant set; that is,
when vowel harmony is in operation, [-ATR] vowels change to [+ATR]
ones, but [+ATR] vowels do not change to [-ATR] ones." (34)

"All examples of vowel harmony across morpheme boundaries are 
regressive, as can be noticed in the above examples." (35)

"In complex and compound words, vowel harmony operates regressively to
change [-ATR] vowels to their [+ATR] counterparts when the second
morpheme has [+ATR] vowels." (35)

Has dominant [+ATR] suffixes.

Limited leftward [+ATR] spreading across word boundaries. (36)

	Kalenjin (Nilo-Saharan, Nilotic)

Hall, B.L., R.M.R. Hall, M.D. Pam, A. Myers, S.A. Antell & G. Cherono.
1974. African vowel harmony systems from the vantage point of
Kalenjin. Afrika und Ubersee 57:241-267.

Local, John, and Ken Lodge. 1996. Another travesty of representation:
Phonological representation and phonetic interpretation of ATR harmony
in Kalenjin. York Papers in Linguistics 17:77-117.

Lodge, Ken. 1995. Kalenjin morphology: A further exemplification of
underspecification and non-descructive phonology. Lingua 96:29-43.

	Lugbara (Nilo-Saharan, Central Sudanic)

Andersen, Torben. 1986. Tone splitting and vowel quality: Evidence
from Lugbara. Studies in African Linguistics 17:55-68.

(I'm not sure if there is anything going on in this one.)

	Maasai (Nilo-Saharan, Eastern Nilotic)

Hall, B.L., R.M.R. Hall, M.D. Pam, A. Myers, S.A. Antell & G. Cherono.
1974. African vowel harmony systems from the vantage point of
Kalenjin. Afrika und Ubersee 57:241-267.

Hamaya, Mitsuyo. 1997. Vowel harmony in Massai. MS, University of 

[To these references I'd like to add the following:

Levergood, Barbara. 1984. Rule-governed vowel harmony and the
strict cycle. Texas Linguistic Forum 24, 33-55.
Cole, Jennifer. 1991. Planar Phonology and Morphology. Garland,
New York.
Archangeli, Diana and Douglass Pulleyblank. 1994. Grounded
Phonology. MIT Press, Cambridge.

	Ngiti (Nilo-Saharan, Central Sudanic)

Lojenga, Constance Kutsch. 1994b. Ngiti: A Central-Sudanic language
of Zaire. (Nilo-Saharan, 9.) K^ln: K^ppe.

	Toposa (Nilo-Saharan, Eastern Nilotic)

Schroeder, Helga & Martin Schroeder. 1987. Vowel harmony in
Toposa. MS, Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Has both dominant and recessive suffixes. /O/, though normally [-ATR],
functions as [+ATR] counterpart of /a/ in some suffixes Dominant
suffixes can be either [+ATR] or [-ATR]--in both cases, root vowels
assimilate to the suffix.

- -----------------------
From: Markus Hiller <>

i do not know whether this fits with what you are looking for, but any
kind of umlaut (as opposed to harmony) is of the
dominant-vs.-recessive type or else it would not have any effect at
all (or be indistinguishable from harmony):

umlaut of [-back,-round] occurs in chamorro with
 hulo --- i hilo
(anderson 1980: 4, who cites topping 1973; perhaps
also in topping 1968 (not seen)).

i do not have any of the references at hand, but as far as i remember,
the dominant set was /i e/ (?), the recessive set /u o/ (?), and /a/
unaffected by, but also not triggering, umlaut. i only vaguely
remember it was something like this, so i recommend checking with the

ANDERSON, Stephen R., 1980. "Problems and perspectives
 in the description of vowel harmony". In: Vago,
 Robert M. (ed.), _Issues in Vowel Harmony_, pp.1--48.
 Amsterdam: Benjamins.
TOPPING, Donald M., 1973. _Chamorro Reference Grammar_.
 Honolulu HI: University of Hawaii Press.
TOPPING, Donald M., 1968. "Chamorro vowel harmony".
 Oceanic Linguistics 7, 67--79.
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