Back and front vowels (Büyük ünlü uyumu)
Turkish has eight vowels. Four of them are front vowels: e, i, ö, ü. These front vowels are produced with the tongue forward in the mouth: the middle-to-front portion of the tongue is raised towards the front of the roof of the mouth (although it does not touch the roof of the mouth).
The other four are back vowels: a, ı, o, u. The back vowels are produced with the front part of the tongue held low in the front of the mouth, while the back part of the tongue is raised towardsthe back of the roof of the mouth. When you make these sounds, it feels rather as if the front vowels are produced in the front of the mouth, and as if the back vowels are produced in the back of the mouth.If the last vowel of the base (the main part) of the word is a front vowel, then the vowel in a suffix added to it will also be front, the vowel in each subsequent suffix being governed by the vowel of the syllable that precedes it:
|ev house||ev-ler-in-de in their houses|
But if the last vowel, of the base is a back vowel, then the vowel in the suffix which follows it will also be back, and the vowel in each subsequent suffix will again be determined by the vowelpreceding it:
|orman forest||ormanda at the forest|
There are some suffixes which are non-harmonic – that is, they always have the same vowel, regardless of the vowel in the preceding syllable.
Round and non-round vowels (Küçük ünlü uyumu)
The same eight vowels can also be grouped differently as round and non-round vowels. The round vowels are those we say with the lips rounded and slightly forward: o, ö, u, ü. The other four vowels are non- round: a, e, i, ı.
If the last vowel of the base of the word is a non-round vowel, then the vowels in the suffix which follows will also be non-round:
If, however, the last vowel of the base is round, the inherent nature of the vowel in the suffix determines whether or not it harmonises with the round vowel in the base.
- As far as vowel harmony is concerned, there are three kinds of suffix:
- a) those in which the vowel is either a or e, and therefore can never be round, regardless of whether or not the vowel of the preceding syllable is round;
- b) those in which the vowel can be i, ı, u or ü. If the suffix is of this type, the vowel will be i or ı if the preceding vowel is non-round, and u or ü if the preceding vowel is round;
- c) those that do not harmonise at all with the final vowel of the preceding syllable (non-harmonic suffixes).
(-DE) is a suffix meaning ‘in’, ‘on’ or ‘at’. The vowel in this suffix can be either a or e (a/e type, as in (a) above), so it can never be round.
The only vowel in the base is e. It is a front vowel, so the vowel in the suffix -DE is also a front vowel: e, giving the word evde.
|yol road||yolda at the road|
The last vowel in the base is o, a back vowel, so the vowel in the suffix -DE will also be back. As the only two possibilities for this particular suffix are e (front vowel) and a (back vowel), the suffix for yol is -da: yolda
(-Lİ) is a suffix meaning ‘with’, ‘containing’, ‘having in it’. This suffix belongs to category (b) above: its vowel can be i, ı, u or ü. Thus:
peynir ‘cheese’: The last vowel in peynir, i, is a front vowel – and it is also non-round. So the vowel in the -Lİ suffix will also be a front, non- round vowel when it is added to peynir: peynirli ‘with cheese fındık ‘hazelnut’: The last vowel in fındık, ı, is a back non-round vowel. So the vowel in the -Lİ suffix will be the one vowel out of the four possibilities (ı, i, u, ü) which is also a back, non-round vowel.
fındıklı ‘with hazelnuts’.
süt ‘milk’: ü is a front, round vowel, so the vowel in the suffix will also be a front, round vowel: sütlü ‘with milk’.
yağmur ‘rain’: The final vowel u is a back, round vowel, so the suffix vowel will also be a back, round vowel; yağmurlu ‘rainy’
Vowel harmony looks a little complicated at first, but you will find it quickly becomes instinctive. The chart below may help to summarise it:
|Final vowel in the base||Suffix type (a) type(b)|
|a or ı||ı|
|e or i||i|
|o or u||u|
|ö ör ü||ü|
These are the descriptive labels for the eight Turkish vowels:
|a: back, non-round||o: back, round|
|e: front, non-round||ö: front, round|
|ı: back, non-round||u: back, round|
|i: front, non-round||ü front, round|