So I have a Back vowel harmony system in my conlang, where front and back vowel cannot occur in the same word. Now that I am evolving my conlang, How can I decay the harmony system giving space to more morphological vowel diversity?

2 Answers 2


A constant annoyance for vowel harmony are borrowings from languages that don't have it. So let your conlang be in contact with another conlang without vowel harmony and borrow words from it. Make sure that the words cannot be regularised without creating homophones. Once the vowel harmony is perturbed, it may be dissolved entirely.


In addition to loanwords as raised by JK, you can also have consonants colour neighbouring vowels.

Consider a language where /i/ & /u/ form a harmonic pair with no word containing both, and that has the consonants /c/, /k/, & /q/ (amongst others). Let's also include some nonce words nutaculu & saqimi, and a suffix -fi/fu.

You might then have /c/ front an adjacent /u/ to [i], and /q/ back an adjacent /i/ to [u]. This would mean that our nonce words would be pronounced [nutacilu] & [saqumi]. At this point, the colouring is allophonic, so people would likely still understand the underlying forms of these words as harmonic, and would likely still take the expected suffixes -fu & -fi respectively.

If we lose the opposition between the dorsals now though, we have [nutakilu] and [sakumi] with no obvious trigger for why the anharmonic vowels appear. If enough of these oddities build up, at some point remembering all the exceptions to harmony becomes untenable, and the system will collapse.

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