Partial Decay of Vowel Harmony in Modern Eastern Mongolian

Yoshio SAITÔ, YURONG and Kikuo MAEKAWA

Partial Decay of Vowel Harmony in Modern Eastern Mongolian

(66th Annual Meeting of the PIAC Göttingen, 2024)

The phonetic basis of the traditionally called “palatal” vowel harmony in modern eastern Mongolian has been a matter of dispute because the formation of the harmonic pairs in the language cannot be accounted for in terms of palatality, or backness of the tongue. Tongue height and tongue root position have been proposed instead as a factor that governs the vowel harmony, but no decisive articulatory evidence has been given. We have recently shown using data obtained from MRI movies of the Bārin dialect vowels that the difference in tongue root position is the basis for the “palatal” harmony.

However, some new vowels have emerged in many dialects by assimilation and diphthong simplification into a long vowel (e.g. ami > [ɛm], mori > [mœr], uni > [ʏn], širü > [ɕyr]; ail > [ɛːl], oi > [œː], uila- > [œːl], üile > [yːl]). We examined articulations of the new vowels in the Bārin dialect and found that they cooccur with vowels of the opposite specification in terms of tongue root position, which means the vowel harmony is partially decayed from a phonetic point of view.