Vowel Harmony in Gurenɛ

  • Helen Adongo Atipoka University of Education, Winneba
  • Avea E. Nsoh University of Education, Winneba
Keywords: Gurenε, vowel harmony, autosegmental, phonology, assimilation, vowel harmony, autosegmental, phonology, assimilation, Gurenɛ



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. 


Author Biographies

Helen Adongo Atipoka, University of Education, Winneba

Atipoka Helen Adongo is a Lecturer in the Department of Ghanaian Languages Education, University of Education, Winneba. Her research areas include phonetics and phonology of Gurenε and general linguistics.

Avea E. Nsoh, University of Education, Winneba

Avea E. Nsoh is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and a Principal at the University of Education, Winneba. His research areas include theoretical linguistics with focus on morphology and syntax, culture, oral literature and language policy.


Abubakari, H. 2018. Aspects of Kusaal Grammar: The syntax-information structure
interface. Ph.D thesis. University of Vienna, Vienna
Adongo, A. H. 2013. “Acoustic Analysis of Vowels of the Boone and Nabt Dialects of
Farefari.” In Readings in African Dialectology and Applied Linguistics,
edited by F.A. Fabunmi and A.S. Salawu. Munich: Lincom GmbH.
Akanlig-Pare, G. 2002. Vowel Harmony in Buli. New Directions in Ghanaian Linguistics,
Akanlig-Pare, G. 1994. Aspects of Buli phonology. Unpublished MPhil dissertation.
University of Ghana, Legon.
A-inkonge, B. 2013. Compound words in Gurenε. Unpublished MA Thesis.
University of Education, Winneba.
Aoki, H. 1968. “Toward a typology of vowel harmony.” International Journal of American
Linguistics, 34(2): 142-145.
Atintono, A. S. 2013. The semantics and grammar of Gurenɛ positional verbs: a
typological perspective. PhD thesis, University of Manchester.
Atintono, Samuel. 2011. Verb morphology: phrase structure in a Gur language (Gurenε).
LAP LAMBERT Academic publishing
Atintono, A. S. 2004. A Morpho-Syntactic study of the Gurenε Verb. Unpublished MPhil
thesis. University of Ghana, Legon.
Atipoka, H. A. 2008. Spectrographic Analysis of Gurenɛ Short Oral Vowels. Unpublished
MPhil Thesis. University of Education, Winneba.
Ayambire, W. 1980. Unification of the “Frafra” dialects (Standization of Gurene). BA long
essay. Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana, Legon.
Azagsiba, A. J. 1977. Frafra and Nankani: A comparative study. Legon: University of
Apeligiba, Patrick Atinsunga. 2015. Aspects of the phonology of the Nankarɛ dialect of
Farefari. Unpublished MPhil Thesis. University of Education, Winneba.
Bendor-Samuel, J.T. 1971. Niger-Congo, Gur. In Current Trends in Linguistics, 7: 141-
Bodomo, A. B. and Abubakari, H. 2017. Towards the harmonization of a writing system
for the Mabia languages of West Africa. In Deconstructing the African tower of
Babel: Between the harmonization and fragmentation of African language orthographies, edited by Kwesi K. Prah, and M. Lazarus, 120: 159 -181. CASAS BOOK SERIES South Africa: Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS).
Bodomo, A. 1997. The structure of Dagaare. Stanford: CSLI publications.
Bloomfield, L. 1933. Language history: from Language (1933 ed.). Holt, Rinehart and
Clements, G. N. 1985. “Akan vowel harmony: a nonlinear analysis.” In African
linguistics, edited by D.L. Goyvaerts, SSLS 6: 55-98. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Clements, G. N. 1976. “Neutral vowels in Hungarian vowel harmony: an autosegmental
interpretation.” Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Meeting of North Eastern
Linguistic Society (pp. 49-64).
Clements, G. N. and S.J. Keyser. 1983. “Cv phonology. A generative theory of the syllable.” Linguistic Inquiry Monographs Cambridge, Mass., 9: 1-191.
Cook, Vivien. 1993. Linguistics and second Language Acquisition. New York: Palgrave
Dakubu, Mary Esther Kropp, Awinkene S. Atintono and Avea E. Nsoh. 2007.
Gurenɛ English Dictionary. Vol.1, Legon: Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana..
Dakubu, Mary Esther Kropp, Awinkene S. Atintono and Avea E. Nsoh. 2007. English-
Gurenɛ Glossary. Vol.1.Legon: Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana.
Dakubu, M. E. K. 1996. A Grammar of Gurenε. Legon: University of Ghana.
Dakubu, M. E. K. 2006. “Prosodic features of the Gurenε verb.” Gur Papers/Cahiers
Voltaïques, 7:16-27.
Dolphyne, F. 1988. The Akan (Twi-Fante) language: Its sound systems and tonal
structure. Accra: Ghana Universities Press.
Dolphyne, A. Florence. 2006. The Akan (Twi-Fante) language: its sound systems and
tonal structure. Accra: WOELI Publishing Services.
Elders, Stefan. 2008. Grammaire Kulango (Parler de Bouna, Cote d’Ivoire) Koln:
Rudiger Koppe Verlag.
Ewen C. J. and H. Van der Hulst. 2001. The phonological structure of words: an
introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Goldsmith, J. A. 1976. Autosegmental phonology. PhD thesis. Massachusetts Institute of
Gussenhoven, C. and H. Jacobs. 2013. Understanding phonology (3rd edition). London:
Hodder Education.
Halle, M., and J.R. Vergnaud. 1981. “Harmony processes.” Crossing the boundaries in
linguistics (pp. 1- 22). Springer, Dordrecht.
Hansson, G. 2001. Theoretical and typological issues in consonant harmony. PhD thesis. University of California, Berkeley.
Hulst, H. V. D., M. P. G. M. Mous and N. Smith. 1986. “The autosegmental analysis of
reduced vowel harmony systems: the case of Tunen.” Linguistics in the Netherlands, 105(122).
Kenstowicz, Michael. 1994. Phonology in generative grammar (pp. 195-249). Oxford:
Kenstowicz, Michael. 2006. “Generative phonology.” In Encyclopaedia of Language and
Linguistics (2nd edition), edited by K. Brown. Elsevier Science.
Malmkjær, K. (ed.). 2010. The Routledge linguistic encyclopaedia (2010). New York:
Routledge Taylor and Francis group.
Musah, A. Agoswin. 2017. A Grammar of Kusaal. PhD thesis. Institute of African
Studies, Frankfurt University, Frankfurt
Mutaka, N. M. 2000. An introduction to African linguistics. Munich: LINCOM.
Naden, T. 1989. 'Gur'. In The Niger–Congo languages. A classification and description
of Africa's largest language family edited by John Bendor-Samuel and Rhonda L. Hartell,140–168. Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America.
Naden, T. and R. Schaefer. 1973. “The Meaning of ‘Frafra”. Research Review. 9: 2,512.
Nsoh, Avea E. 1997. Some aspects of Gurune (Frafra) nominal structure. MA thesis,
University of Ghana, Legon
Nsoh, Avea E. 2002. “Classifying the nominal in the Gurenɛ dialect of Farefare of Northern
Ghana.” Journal of Dagaare Studies 2:1-15.
Nsoh, Avea E. 2010. Adjective types in Farefari. Studies in the languages of the Volta Basin VI: 113-131.
Nsoh, Avea E. 2011. A lexical-functional syntax of the adjective in the Farefari Language.
PhD thesis, University of Ghana, Legon.
Payne, T. 1997. Describing morphosyntax: A guide for field linguists. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press
Polgárdi, K. 1998. Vowel Harmony. An account in terms of Government and Optimality
Theory (Doctoral dissertation, PhD thesis, Leiden University).
Rapp, E. L. 1966. Die Gurenne-Sprachein NordGhana. Leipzig:VEB Verlag
Rose, S. and R. Walker. 2011. Harmony systems. In The Handbook of Phonological
Theory (2nd Edition), edited by John Goldsmith, Jason Riggle, and Alan Yu, 240-290.
Schaefer, R. 1975. Collected field notes on the Phonology of Farefari. Collected Field
Notes No. 15. Legon, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon
Stewart, J. M. 1967. “Tongue root position in Akan vowel harmony.” Phonetica 16. 185-
Thomason, S. G. and T. Kaufman. 1991. Language Contact, Creolisation, and Genetic
Linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press
Welmers, E. W. 1973. African language structures. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Vowel Harmony in Gurenɛ