The Processing of Backness Harmony in Turkish: An ERPs Study

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Aygüneş M. , Taşdemir Y.

20th International Conference on Turkish Linguistics, Eskişehir, Turkey, 2 - 04 August 2021, pp.60

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Eskişehir
  • Country: Turkey
  • Page Numbers: pp.60


It is stated that vowel harmony violation causes larger amplitude of MMN and P3a in the ERP (Event Related Potentials) literature (Aaltonen et al., 2008; Scharinger et al., 2011; Ylinen et al., 2016). The aim of this study is to examine the cognitive processing of backness harmony in Turkish. In this study, two experiments were done using ERP. In the first experiment, 320 pseudo-words of vowel-consonant-vowel sequence were presented to the participants. The pseudo-words consisted of harmonic (such as aʤa, ɛhɛ) and disharmonic ones (such as aʤɛ, ɛha). In the second experiment, 4 conditions each consisting of 160 words were created by adding the plural suffix -lAr to these pseudo-words:

Root harmonic-Suffix harmonic: aʤalar

Root harmonic-Suffix disharmonic: aʤalɛr 

Root disharmonic-Suffix harmonic: afɛlɛr 

Root disharmonic-Suffix disharmonic: afɛlar

Statistical analysis showed that no difference exists between the conditions in the first experiment. In the second experiment, statistically significant difference between the conditions was observed in the 300-700 ms time interval for suffix harmony [F(1,23)= 4.470, p <.05], in the 700-1100 ms for root harmony [F(1,23)= 16.835, p <.001] and for suffix harmony [F(1,23)= 4.470, p <.05], in the 1100-1500 ms. for root harmony [F(1,23)= 5.846, p <.05] and suffix harmony [F(1,23)= 6.734, p <.05].

As a result, no difference was observed in the processing of root backness harmony. However, when the suffix is added, the processing differences occur between both the harmonic and disharmonic structures and the FN400 + P600 and late FN400 components are formed. These findings support the literature which is skeptical about the active presence of vowel harmony in Turkish roots although it is active in the presence of suffixes, which means that it has a context and directionality (Kabak, 2011; Kabak & Weber, 2013).

This study is supported by the Istanbul University Scientific Research Unit (Project ID: SDP- 2019-34179)