Finnish: Vocal harmony / Vokaaliharmonia = Vokaalisointu

In my Finnish classes vocal harmony is usually among the things I teach first. For me it is important that a student gets a strong basis of vocal harmony as this is the topic a person will need all the time. 

What does the vocal harmony mean? The easiest explanation is that the vowels need to be in harmony.🙂

However, there are certain rules for vocal harmony. There is a certain way how vowels perform with each other.

Before we go to the rules, let's see how vowels are divided in the Finnish language. There are three groups: front vowels (etuvokaalit), back vowels (takavokaalit) and neutral vowels (neutraalit vokaalit). 
Front vowels are ä, ö, y
Middle vowels are i and e
Back vowels are a, o, u

🟣If there are front vowels ä, ö or y in the first syllable of the word, the rule is that front vowels also need to be perform in the other syllable(s) of the word. 

For example: tämä (it/this) ➢ tä/mä
It cannot be täma (täma) because there is letter ä in the first syllable. Since ä is a front vowel, it cannot perform with a back vowel a. According to the rule, it needs to perform with a front vowel!


Next up, let's take a word tyttö (girl) ➢ tyt/tö. 
Here we have a front vowel y in the first syllable which means front vowel also needs to be in the last syllable. It cannot be tytto (tytto)! Front vowel y cannot perform together with a back vowel o


🟣 If there are back vowels a, o or u in the first syllable of the word, they can only perform with back vowels. They cannot perform with front vowels! 

For example: talo (house) ➢ ta/lo.
There is a back vowel a in the first syllable, so we need to have a back vowel in the second syllable as well. We have the word talo, it cannot be, for example, talö (talö) because back vowels and front vowels cannot perform together. 


Let's take another example of back vowels. 

The word kauppa (shop) ➢ kaup/pa. 
There is a back vowel a (and u) in the first syllable which means there has to be a back vowel in the last syllable. It cannot be kauppä (kauppä)! 


🟣 Then we have the neutral vowels i and e. I and e are phonologically like back vowels but they are still considered to be neutral vowels. The reason for this is that neutral vowels can perform with both front and back vowels! 

Lets take some examples:

Ikä (age) ➢ i/kä
Mitä (what) ➢ mi/tä
Ääni (sound) ➢ ää/ni
Hikka (hiccup) ➢ hik/ka
Muki (mug) ➢ mu/ki
Kello (clock) ➢ kel/lo
Kissa (cat) ➢ kis/sa
Mekko (dress) ➢ mek/ko

Let's take the example in the theater. It's inside of something, so we need to use the inessive case which ending in Finnish is -ssa/-ssä. In Finnish the correct translation would be teatterissa (not teatterissä!). My tip is - if in doubts, take a look at the other vowels of the word. In this example, we also have a back vowel a. And we have both e and i which can perform with back and front vowels. So this makes it easier to decide which vowel is the correct one. If we have the example työssä (at work), it's obvious we need to use only front vowels as there are only front vowels in the word. 

Some other tips and examples: 

He tekevät (they are doing)
Perhettä (family in partitive case)
Vetelä (flabby)
Meteliä (loud noise in partitive case)

Meri, meren, merta
Veri, veren, verta

As you can see, the more you can see the letters e, the more likely it is we are using a front vowel ä at the end of the word. 

Also, when it comes to compound words, we always neet to pay attention to the last word. 
For example:
Kerrostalo (apartment house) ➢ kerros/talo ➢ kerros/talo/ssa (in the apartment house)
Valkoviini (white wine) ➢ valko/viini ➢ valko/viini/ssä (in the white wine)
Minimekko (minidress) ➢ mini/mekko ➢ mini/meko/ssa (in the minidress) NB! Notice the consonant gradation!
Yöpaita (nightgown) ➢ yö/paita ➢ yö/paida/ssa (in the nightgown) NB! Notice the consonant gradation! 


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