Vowel harmony

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Hungarian, like its distant relative Finnish, has the same system of front, back, and intermediate (neutral) vowels. The basic rule is that words with front ("high") vowels get front vowel suffixes (kézbe - in(to) the hand), back ("low") vowel words back suffixes (karba - in(to) the arm).

The only essential difference in classification between Hungarian and Finnish is that Hungarian does not observe the difference between Finnish 'ä' [æ] and 'e' [e] – the Hungarian front vowel 'e' [æ] is the same as the Finnish front vowel 'ä'.

Behaviour of neutral vowels

Intermediate or neutral vowels are usually counted as front ones, since they are formed that way, the difference being that neutral vowels can occur along with back vowels in Hungarian word bases (e.g. répa carrot, kocsi car). The basic rule is that words with neutral and back vowels usually take back suffixes (e.g. répá|ban in a carrot, kocsi|ban in a car).

The suffix rules for words with both kinds of suffixes are the following:

  • The last syllable counts: sofőr|höz, nüansz|szal, generál|ás, október|ben
    • A regular exception is i/í and é (but not usually e): they are transparent for the rule, so only the other sounds will be taken into consideration, e.g. papír|hoz, kuplé|hoz, marék|hoz, konflis|hoz
  • Some words can take either front or back suffixes: farmer|ban or farmer|ben

Suffixes in multiple forms

While most grammatical suffixes in Hungarian come in either one form (e.g. -kor) or two forms (front and back, e.g. -ban/-ben), some suffixes have an additional form for front rounded vowels (such as ö, ő, ü and ű), e.g. hoz/-hez/-höz. An example on basic numerals:

Altaic languages

Mongolian

Mongolian is similar. Front vowels in Mongolian are considered feminine, while back vowels are considered masculine.

Tatar

Tatar has no neutral vowels. The vowel é is found only in loanwords. Other vowels also could be found in loanwords, but they are seen as Back vowels. Tatar language also has a rounding harmony, but it isn't represented in writing. O and ö could be written only in the first syllable, but vowels they mark could be pronounced in place where ı and e are written.

Kazakh

Kazakh's system of vowel harmony is primarily a front/back system, but there is also a system of rounding harmony that is not represented by the orthography, which strongly resembles the system in Kyrgyz.

Kyrgyz

Kyrgyz's system of vowel harmony is primarily a front/back system, but there is also a system of rounding harmony.

Turkish

Turkish has a 2-dimensional vowel harmony system, where vowels are characterised by two features: [±front] and [±rounded].

Front/back harmony

Turkish has two classes of vowels – front and back. Vowel harmony states that words may not contain both front and back vowels. Therefore, most grammatical suffixes come in front and back forms, e.g. Türkiye'de "in Turkey" but Almanya'da "in Germany".

Rounding harmony

In addition, there is a secondary rule that i and ı tend to become ü and u respectively after rounded vowels, so certain suffixes have additional forms. This gives constructions such as Türkiye'dir "it is Turkey", kapıdır "it is the door", but gündür "it is day", paltodur "it is the coat".

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