Progressive front vowel harmony in Warlpiri: A Serial Harmony approach

Jason Zentz, Yale University


This paper investigates the Warlpiri pattern of progressive vowel harmony whereby [u] becomes [i] under the influence of a preceding [i], unless blocked by [a] or a labial consonant. Previous Optimality Theory analyses of this phenomenon have relied on local agreement constraints (Berry 1998; McCarthy 2003a; Harvey & Baker 2005). These constraints have been shown to have a “sour grapes” property (Padgett 1995; McCarthy 2003b); that is, to predict unattested solutions to disharmony in words with blockers and to be unable to account for partial harmony. In order to provide an analysis of Warlpiri vowel harmony that avoids these unwanted predictions, this paper adopts the framework of Serial Harmony (McCarthy 2009; 2011), developed within the architecture of Harmonic Serialism (McCarthy 2000 and others). Serial Harmony was initially illustrated using nasal harmony, with some comments regarding its application in vowel harmony contexts. This analysis confirms that vowel harmony with blocking may be modeled within this framework, avoiding the typological problems inherent in previous OT analyses of Warlpiri vowel harmony.