Innocence Seekers: The Black Rose – Vowel harmony in dialectal Namari

Unlike the previous posts, this post will focus on a feature only found in some dialects, namely, vowel harmony. Vowel harmony may have existed in an early form of Namari; however, most dialects, if not all, have lost it. In fact, it is not clear if the vowel harmony found in the western dialects is an echo of this prehistoric feature or an entirely new innovation.

One note before I begin: all transcription is phonetic, rather than phonemic. This demonstrates the western vowel harmony better (especially as, for example, original /ai/ is neutral when /a/ is light). A grave accent indicates a low-mid vowel (/ɛ/, /ɔ/), and an umlaut indicates a light vowel (/ø/, /y/). I won’t denote the difference between /u/ and /ɯ/, and in some instances (after palatalised consonants and coronals) the difference is neutralised anyway.

In the vowel harmony system of the western dialects, there are three classes of vowels, denoted as light, heavy and neutral, where light and heavy vowels cannot coexist in a word. The three neutral vowels are /e/, /i/ and /ɛ/ (the last largely appearing as the result of monophthongisation of earlier /ai/). The rest of the vowels are split depending on whether they are front (light) or back (heavy) vowels. In this case the light vowels are /a/, /ø/ and /y/, and the heavy vowels are /ɔ/, /o/, /u/ and /ɯ/ (in the Haguya dialect, [ɤ] does not exist, with earlier /eu/ monophthongising to [ɯː] instead and making /ɯ/ phonemic; note that it is largely considered the same as /u/). The light vowels correspond directly to their respective heavy counterparts (other than /y/, which has two heavy counterparts /u/ and /ɯ/). If /u/ is part of a diphthong, it is treated as a consonant and ignored in vowel harmony.

What is notable about the Haguya dialect is that it preserves the difference between Proto-Japonic *o and , with the latter being /ø/. Likewise, *ui and *oi are realised as /y/ in the Haguya dialect.

While in general, /a/ alternates with /ɔ/, /ø/ alternates with /o/ and /y/ alternates with /u/, there are some exceptions:

  • The inanimate genitive -nö normally has a heavy alternant -no. However, mezu has an irregular genitive menò, using an irregular heavy alternant.
  • The animate genitive -ga alternates not with the expected -gò, but with -no.
  • The vowel-stem imperative -yö alternates not with the expected -yo, but with -ye.

Each inflectional suffix has a default form, used when the stem only has neutral vowels.

This has some implications for nominal and verbal inflection. To compare, here are the stem forms of three quinquegrade verbs, kakü (“to write”), kiku (“to hear”) and tukoyu (“to use”):

  • Imperfective: kaka-, kika-, tukoyò-
  • Infinitive: kaki, kiki, tukoi
  • Conclusive: kakü, kiku, tukoyu
  • Attributive: kakö, kiko, tukoyo
  • Perfective: kake, kike, tukoye
  • Imperative: kake, kike, tukoye
  • Participle: kèète, kiite, tukotte

And here are two lower bigrade verbs, agü (“to raise”) and sodòtu (“to rear”):

  • Imperfective: age-, sodòte-
  • Infinitive: age, sodòte
  • Conclusive: agü, sodòtu
  • Attributive: agüyö, sodòtuyo
  • Perfective: agüye, sodòtuye
  • Imperative: ageyö, sodòteye
  • Participle: agete, sodòtete

Here are example declensions of püü (“fire”), pitö (“person”) and mimi (“ear”):

  • Nominative: püü, pitö, mimi
  • Accusative: poo, pitöö, mimiu (-o)
  • Vocative: püyö, pitöyö, mimiyö
  • Genitive: pono, pitöga, miminö
  • Dative: pon, pitön, mimin
  • Instrumental: poji, pitöji, mimiji
  • Comitative: poto, pitötö, mimitö
  • Ablative: pokòyò, pitökaya, mimikaya
  • Allative: pompe, pitömpe, mimimpe
  • Comparative: poyoo, pitöyöö, mimiyöö
  • Terminative: poyomòde, pitömade, mimimade
  • Locative: ponde, pitönde, miminde
  • Abessive: ponku, pitönkü, miminku

Note that the default form of the vocative is -yö; it will be realised as -yo in a heavy environment. The noun püü is unusual in that it switches between light and heavy stems, a result of being a monosyllabic second declension noun. Not all case suffixes are represented here; however, the only ones left out have neither light nor heavy vowels. These declensions do not include dual and plural forms.

That will be it for now. Next post will be about nouns.