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Neutral vowels in sound-symbolic vowel harmony in Korean*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 December 2012

Darrell Larsen
University of Delaware
Jeffrey Heinz
University of Delaware


The set of neutral vowels in the vowel-harmony pattern found in Modern Korean sound-symbolic words is traditionally considered to consist of two members: [i] and [ɨ]. Some authors have tentatively put forward the hypothesis that [u] and [y] are also neutral. A corpus study on the phonotactics of Korean sound-symbolic vowel harmony provides quantitative support both for the traditional understanding of [i] and [ɨ] as neutral vowels and for the tentative hypothesis that [u] and [y] are also neutral. Additionally, the corpus study reveals that vowels are neutral to different degrees. The vowel [a] is shown to be partially neutral, but unlike the other neutral vowels which are transparent, [a] is partially opaque. The distribution of diphthongs is also studied.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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We would like to thank the audiences at PLC 34, the University of Tokyo and the Phonology and Phonetics Lab Group at the University of Delaware. Additionally, we thank Bill Idsardi, Regine Lai, Andy Martin, James Rogers, the editors and an associate editor at Phonology, and three anonymous referees for their insightful comments on previous versions of this paper.



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