On this page, we are going to investigate vowel harmony and vowel harmony phonology in Turkish. First, let’s explain what is vowel harmony?
It is the syntonization of vowels in the morphemic construction.
Turkish language follows vowel harmony. Vowel harmony is a common feature of agglutinative languages with some exceptions like the Guarani Language. This phenomenon occurs mainly because of the natural tendency towards a muscular economy and creating harmonious sounds while speaking.
The Turkish language’s system of vowel harmony consists of two different types: major vowel harmony and minor vowel harmony.
Before continuing, we recommend that you review your knowledge about vowels and vowel types in the‘vowels in turkish language’ page.
Vowel harmony phonological rules:
Rule 1 – A-type Vowel Harmony
The vowel in the stem and the subsequent vowels must agree with each other.
Rule 1 applies to all back and front
This means that if the final vowel in a word is a back vowel, then the subsequent vowel is also a back vowel. In other words, if one of the syllable has one of a,ı,o,u, the preceding vowel has to be ‘a’, if the last syllable has one of front vowels ö,i,ü,e, the suffix has to have e.
Since it ends with –e, it must have the suffix –ler.
(waiting) at the door
I don’t know if you already know what I am going to say now, but I have to explain assuming that you don’t have any pre-knowledge. Please make the pronunciations of the Turkish vowels and realize which shape your mouth taking. Back vowels (a,ı,o,u) indeed are pronounced in the back of your mouth and the front vowels, front. As we said earlier, languages tend to make muscular economy; moving the back and front of your mouth to say one word is harder! If you say a back vowel, go on with a back vowel. This is that simple!
Please DO NOT memorize this first harmony rules. Instead, you can make out by your own from the shape of your mouth! So, if you have time, please take a pen and paper and try to write down the vowel chart by the shape of your mouth without peeking. (Try not to do it in public, hehe.)
Rule 2 – i-type Vowel Harmony
This second rule may need some memorizing.
If the last syllable has e or i, the subsequent vowel has to be i
lit. Without love, loveless, stony-hearted
Kalemsiz sınava gelmiş
S/he came to exam without pencil
If the last syllable has ö or ü, the subsequent vowel has to be ü
Without a lake
City without a lake
If the last syllable has a or ı, the subsequent vowel has to be ı
Without a door
If the last syllable has o or u, the subsequent vowel has to be u
If final vowel is –e or –i => i / siz
If final vowel is –ö or –ü => ü / süz
If final vowel is –a or –ı => ı / sız
If final vowel is –o or –u => u / suz
When a suffix is added to any word, you need to remember these rules to decide which form to use.
The rules above might not apply for some specific situations (but for the vast majority, yes they apply). Let’s take a more in-depth look for some cases.
Vowel harmony – examples:
İş + siz . Since the last and the only vowel of the word (iş) is “i”, the following vowel would be “i”.
In the building
From the building
In the apartment
As you continue to improve your Turkish, you will encounter more suffixes following the same rules and, of course, some exceptions. Do NOT get discouraged if you can’t form a word correctly at the beginning. But as you hear more word, you’ll get used to the phonology and form the words without even thinking.