In Altaian language there are 8 vowel sounds: a, о, у, ы, ӧ, ӱ, е, и. We devide them into “front” and “back”.
a, о, у, ы are “back” or hard vowels
ӧ, ӱ, е, и are “front” or soft vowels.
Every word in altaian language can consist of only front or back vowels. A word in altaian language can not have front and back vowels together. For example, words тура, бычак, балык, адару have only back vowels, and words темир, кижи, бӧрӱ have only front vowels.
So, vowel harmony ensures that the correct suffix is used depending on the last vowel in the word. If a word’s last vowel is back then we add suffixes with a back vowel such as -да, -до, -га, -го etc. And we use suffixes -де, -дӧ, -ге, -гӧ, -ке, -кӧ with words having last front vowel.
турада = in a house
турадаҥ = from a house
балага = to a child
баладаҥ=from a child
кырда= in the mountain
кырдаҥ=from a mountain
койонго = to a hare
койонноҥ = from a hare
(suffixes -до, -го, -ко, -доҥ, -тоҥ are used when a word has the last vowel O: оро=pit, ородо=in a pit )
ӧртӧккӧ = to a duck
ӧртӧктӧҥ=from a duck
(suffixes -дӧ, -гӧ, -кӧ, -дӧҥ, -тӧҥ are used when a word has the last vowel Ӧ: ӧлӧҥ=grass, ӧлӧҥдӧ=оn the grass)
кижиге = to a person
кижидеҥ = from a person
бӧрӱге = to a wolf
бӧрӱдеҥ = from a wolf
The vowel harmony rule states that:
- any suffix added to a word with front vowels must have front vowels
- any suffix added to a word with back vowels must have back vowels
As an example to this rule let´s consider the suffix –да. When added to a noun, this suffix gives the meaning of “at/in” – the location. When added to a back vowel word like тура (house), this suffix is –да. However, when added to a front vowel word like кеме (boat), the back vowel in this suffix are replaced by their front counterparts and the suffix becomes –де: кемеде (in a boat).