Ghana Journal of Linguistics

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Vowel Harmony in Gurenɛ

Helen Adongo Atipoka, Avea E. Nsoh


This paper discusses vowel harmony; a type of assimilatory process in Gurenε (Mabia language), within the Autosegmental phonology framework (Goldsmith 1976, 1990, Clements 1977). The phenomenon exists in many African languages and has received descriptive analyses in previous studies on Gurene (see Azagesiba 1977, Dakubu 1996, Nsoh 1997, Adongo 2008). These works were however limited in scope and lacked theoretical grounding. This paper employs the feature spreading approach within Autosegmental phonology to characterise cases in which segments share the same specifications or assimilate to a feature or a group of features (Ewen &Van der Hulst 2001: 30-31). For instance, in Gurenε, vowels in a specific harmonic domain in any given word are either all [+ATR] or all [-ATR]. Data for this study was collected through recording of utterances of twelve native speakers from six Gurenε speaking communities in the Upper East region of Ghana.  Our findings showed that vowels in Gurenε words are strictly governed by vowel harmony rules. Therefore, only vowels of the same qualities or features [±ATR] can co-occur in words. Consequently, we confirm that ATR harmony operates at two levels in Gurenε: the root and the suffix in the domain of a word. We show that vowel harmony operates all through; from CVCV to multisyllabic words. Even though there are cases when harmony is blocked and does not operate across word boundaries particularly in compounds, the paper established that many Gurenε loanwords and compounds are governed by vowel harmony rules. We also found out that the language has vowel-consonant harmony and rounding harmony.
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