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ATR Harmony in African Languages

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Abstract

A widespread phonological pattern in African languages of the Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan families is a type of vowel harmony or assimilation based on a phonological feature [ATR], or advanced tongue root. This article introduces the general behavior of African ATR harmony systems, briefly describes their geographic and genetic distribution, and discusses the phonetic basis of the feature [ATR]. I describe several aspects of typological variation in ATR harmony languages, with particular attention to some controversial issues of theoretical interest on which recent research may shed additional light. Topics covered include the nature of a widely discussed typological distinction between dominant and root-controlled ATR harmony languages, the extent to which [–ATR] vowels behave as dominant, the behavior of the frequently neutral vowel /a/, and the question of whether the direction of application of ATR harmony can be predicted from the morphological possibilities found in a language.

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