Vowel harmony is a phonotactic principle that requires adjacent vowels to agree in certain vowel features. Phonological theory considers this principle to be represented in one's native grammar, but its abstractness and perceptual consequences remain a matter of debate. In this paper, we are interested in the brain's response to violations of harmony in Turkish. For this purpose, we test two acoustically close and two acoustically distant vowel pairs in Turkish, involving different kinds of harmony violations. Our measure is the Mismatch Negativity (MMN), an automatic change detection response of the brain that has previously been applied for the study of native phoneme representations in a variety of languages. The results of our experiment support the view that vowel harmony is a phonological principle with a language-specific long-term memory representation. Asymmetries in MMN responses support a phonological analysis of the pattern of results, but do not provide evidence for a pure acoustic or a pure probabilistic approach. Phonological analyses are given within Optimality Theory (OT) and within an underspecification account.
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