Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 303–337

Variation in Finnish Vowel Harmony: An OT Account

  • Catherine O. Ringen
  • Orvokki Heinämäki

DOI: 10.1023/A:1006158818498

Cite this article as:
Ringen, C.O. & Heinämäki, O. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory (1999) 17: 303. doi:10.1023/A:1006158818498


This paper presents data on vowel harmony with disharmonic roots in Finnish which show that when the last harmonic vowel in a disharmonic root is back, in almost all cases the only possible harmonic suffix vowel is back, but when the last harmonic vowel is front, there is usually variation in suffix vowel choice that seems to be influenced by several factors, including sonority and stress. These data, which cannot easily be accounted for in rule-based theories, can be accounted for in Optimality Theory. A highly ranked alignment constraint accounts for harmony with native roots and loans in which the last harmonic vowel is back. Unranked constraints, which tie suffix vowel choice to stress and sonority, as well as alignment requirements, determine suffix vowel quality for the remainder of forms. Variation is seen to be a function of the relative frequency with which a particular suffix vowel is designated as optimal by the different possible rankings of the unranked constraints.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine O. Ringen
    • 1
  • Orvokki Heinämäki
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of IowaIowa City
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of HelsinkiFinland