Somali Vowel Harmony

A while ago, I wrote a paper for one of my linguistics courses (sometime in Spring 2010) on Somali Vowel Harmony, which was based on data from a paper from the 50s by one B. Andrzejewski. The phenomenon is particularly interesting in Somali, because it’s an instance of vowel harmony that shows spreading across potential word domains, sometimes very far, up until pauses in speech.

(a) beːrtiː   mæ  sɵː  iːbsætæj
    bɛːrtɪː # mæ  sɵː  iːbsætæj
    garden    Q   Deic buy-2pSg-Past
    'Have you bought the garden?'

(b) wʉː         tegi    læhæː
    Foc+3pMasc  Go-Inf  Cond
    'He would go.'

(c) wʊː        ɪmɑn     lɑhɑː
    Foc+3pMasc Come-Inf Cond
    'He would come.'

(d) sɵːrtiː  bæːn      kærijæj
    food-Def Foc+1pSg  Cook-1pSg-Past
    'I cooked the food.'

Example (a) is meant to illustrate the difference in spreading with a pause between constituents, and example (d) is meant to show very very far spreading. Here, the +ATR feature originates in the word for ‘cook’, and ends up crossing all the way to the word for food, which when pronounced on its own, (according to data) has no +ATR vowels.

I plan to collect some more words exhibiting ATR to add to a dictionary and morphological tools I’m working on. The word analyzer/generator I’m working on now can basically analyze words and regenerate them with ATR features present, but the longterm goal is to somehow model the spreading, because it could be used to produce clearer machine speech, and amongst other things, help learners to learn the language; ATR harmony is something that is not present in the orthography really at all (but with some potential exceptions).

I’m making the whole paper available because I hope that it aids someone in research. It’s also an updated look at a phenomenon that was first described in the 50s, and contains IPA data. So, here it is, happy research, and enjoy!