## Abstract

In this paper, we analyse the surface patterns of suffix harmony in front/back harmony systems as the harmonic values front and back being assigned to harmonic contexts consisting of strings of syllables combining front, back and neutral nuclei. We claim that the harmonic contexts can be arranged in a fixed (universal) scale, the frontness/backness scale, with reference to which the possible (i.e. attested) front/back harmony systems can be characterised in a simple way: only those systems are possible where the assignment of values to the harmonic contexts is monotonic, which makes sure that only contiguous (non-interrupted) sequences of harmonic values are assigned to the harmonic contexts. We give formal definitions of monotonicity in terms of ordering and similarity and discuss predictions about possible harmony systems that follow from monotonicity (which we claim are borne out). These predictions are typological: harmony systems can show disharmonic behaviour, but in a principled way: only those systems exist (at least in front/back harmony) that exhibit a monotonic pattern. In the second half of the paper, we discuss variation in harmony and analyse in detail variation in anti-harmony and transparency in Hungarian, which is thus an example of a variable harmony pattern. We argue that variable front/back harmony patterns assign a “variable” value to some harmonic contexts in addition to the front and back values and can be shown to be constrained by monotonicity, whose definition is naturally extendable to patterns with variation. We discuss both the ordering-based and the similarity-based definitions and the predictions about possible variable harmony systems that follow from the definitions. One of the main predictions of the paper is a consequence of monotonicity: the locus of the variation in a pattern occurs only “in between” non-variable subpatterns. We explore a possible way of quantification in which we identify the harmonic values with the relative token frequency of the forms where the number associated with a variable value is *p* such that 0<*p*<1. We show that monotonicity can be defined for quantified patterns too both under the ordering interpretation and the similarity-based one. We conclude by discussing the predictions of the quantified model and showing (based on a corpus study we carried out to discover the ‘frontness ratio’ of variable sites of suffix harmony) that the quantified variable front/back harmony pattern of Hungarian is monotonic and conforms to these predictions.

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