A Segment-specific Metric for Quantifying Participation in Harmony

Avery Ozburn


Despite substantial phonological research into segmental co-occurrence patterns, there is currently no systematic way of calculating the gradient degree to which a segment participates in a harmony system, across its co-occurrences with all other segments. In this paper, I adopt the statistical concept of relative risk as a measure of participation in harmony. I compute both O/E values and the relative risk measure for vowels in corpora of three languages with front/back harmony: Chuvash, Tatar, and Mari. I show that relative risk corresponds to the intuitive notion of how much a vowel participates in harmony, viewed based on how regularly it occurs in disharmonic contexts. I then consider the implications of the results, given what is known about categorical trends of participation in front/back harmony systems in other languages. For example, the relative risk values show that [i] generally participates less in the harmony system than most other vowels in all of these languages, and that marked vowels are typically highly harmonic. As such, this measure can illuminate gradient language-internal and cross-linguistic patterns in harmony participation that are not apparent from more categorical descriptions or entirely clear from O/E values.


Vowel harmony; Gradience; Neutrality; Relative Risk

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/amp.v7i0.4494

Copyright (c) 2019 Avery Ozburn