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Perhaps I'm not educated in this subject, but if vowel harmony means "all the vowels in a word to be members of the same subclass" then does this mean that English has vowel harmony too? For instance, words like lambaste, parka, almost, also, dollar/scholar/colour (AUS/UK English), eerie, collage/montage, follow/swallow/hollow, finish, folklore, borrow, moron, ardor, although, diminish, etc....use the same vowel class in their pronunciation or spelling. Isn't that a "vowel harmony", in a way? Or am I missing something?

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    No, English doesn't have vowel harmony. Vowel harmony isn't some words happening to only have vowels of one class, but a requirement that all words must have vowels of only one class. Most commonly, this requirement is only strictly enforced in inflectional endings, while roots can sometimes break it; for instance, loanwords in Finnish often break vowel harmony (like miljonääri ‘millionaire’, which has the back vowel o in an otherwise front-vowel-only word, etc.). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 20 '16 at 8:11
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    No, they're just an incidental case of words only containing front or back vowels. Vowel harmony refers to the requirement that all words in a language must only contain one class, not incidental cases where individual words do. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 20 '16 at 8:20
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    You may find it helpful to take a look at Turkish, which does have vowel harmony. Turkish has 'back' vowels and 'front' vowels and if the vowel of the first syllable of a word is a back vowel, so too are the vowels of subsequent syllables. And if the vowel of the first syllable is a front vowel, so too are the following ones. link – BillJ Dec 20 '16 at 10:26
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    Interesting question, even if the answer is "No." – Mick Dec 20 '16 at 11:53
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    A subtle form of vowel harmony might exist, for example to explain why certain diphthongs (au) are allowed and others (ao) are not. (It might be overly harsh to say that ao is not allowed; it simply doesn't appear to exist, or is at least extremely rare or restricted to loan words.) – chepner Dec 20 '16 at 15:30
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English doesn't have vowel harmony.

"Vowel harmony" refers to situations where there is some process that changes vowels to be in the same class as other vowels in the word, and/or there is a constraint against having vowels of different classes in a word.

You can see examples of vowel harmony processes in Turkish on e.g. this web page: Vowel Harmony (some examples: the plural of kedi is kediler, the plural of kuş is kuşlar).

Processes like this may be explained in terms of a "constraint"; vowel harmony constraints often also seem to show up separately in base vocabulary e.g. there are few native Finnish roots that contain both front and back vowels. In many (perhaps most? I don't know) languages with vowel harmony, this constraint is violable and "disharmonic" words with vowels from conflicting classes do exist. In particular, it seems compound words are rarely subject to vowel harmony constraints (they aren't in Finnish or in Turkish), and loanwords may not be subject to vowel harmony constraints. But there's a difference between having a violable constraint, and not having any apparent constraint at all.

This is just a general summary. I am not an expert, and even experts still have much to learn about the specifics of what vowel harmony is. Here are some more detailed explanations and discussions:

English doesn't have any processes or constraints like this (as far as I know) so it does not have vowel harmony.

There aren't any English suffixes that use different vowels depending on the vowels in preceding syllables, and there aren't any general restrictions based on vowel class of which vowels can co-exist in an English word.

The suffix -y found in messy is pronounced the same in the words foamy, woody, warty, hearty which all have different vowels.

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The English language doesn't have vowel harmony. If it did, pronunciations of many words would be different.

You would still bequeath, but probably botrothe yourself rather than betrothe, and while a lioness would remain a lioness, a goddess would perhaps be a goddoss. (Source)

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    Why would a lioness remain a lioness? – Wilson Dec 21 '16 at 14:04
  • ^Yeah, wouldn't it be "lionios"? – E.Groeg Dec 22 '16 at 1:23
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Vowel harmony is a property of a language, not of a word or a collection of words. It's simply the way the term is used. The examples in your question do each have all vowels from the same class, but the term vowel harmony is not used to describe this.

As the other answers aptly explain, English doesn't have vowel harmony.

  • I see. I guess vowel harmony only works in full context. Such as, the plural form or suffixes must be in harmony with the vowels of the word in subject. – E.Groeg Dec 21 '16 at 5:02

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