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A target-oriented approach to neutrality in vowel harmony Ozburn, Avery


This dissertation provides a novel perspective on neutrality in vowel harmony, using evidence from multiple front/back and ATR harmony systems. While many standard accounts of harmony assume an equivalence between vowels that are neutral to harmony and those that lack a counterpart in the harmonic feature (e.g. van der Hulst 2016), this correspondence is demonstrably false in both directions. For example, in Hungarian (Chapter 3), [e:] lacks a harmonic counterpart, but is not consistently neutral to front/back harmony, in that it can alternate harmonically in some suffixes with [a:]. Conversely, in Mayak (Chapter 9), [a] has a contrastive ATR counterpart, yet is nonetheless neutral to ATR harmony. I argue that these types of patterns force a new, target-focused approach, where participation is based on the drive of specific vowel qualities to undergo harmony; neutrality results when this drive is insufficient to force unfaithfulness. This idea is motivated by cross-linguistic and phonetic facts suggesting that vowels that are low and/or rounded are inherently better targets of front/back harmony, while higher vowels are better targets of ATR-dominant harmony. I implement this approach formally in Harmonic Grammar; the harmony constraint is scaled by the quality of a vowel as a potential target, parallel to Kimper’s (2011) trigger strength scaling. This account can capture the complexities in the relationship between contrast and neutrality in a variety of harmony systems, including the gradience of neutrality (the height effect) in Hungarian (Hayes & Londe 2006), and paired neutral vowels in Mayak (Andersen 1999), among other cases. I argue that this view of harmony is necessary: neutrality is crucially about the quality of a vowel as a potential target of harmony, where target quality is determined in a cross-linguistically consistent, phonetically motivated way.

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