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I-mutation (also known as umlaut, front mutation, i-umlaut, i/j-mutation or i/j-umlaut) is a type of sound change in which a back vowel is fronted or a front vowel is raised if the following syllable contains /i/, /ī/ or /j/ (a voiced palatal approximant, sometimes called yod, the sound of English ⟨y⟩ in yes). It is a category of regressive metaphony, or vowel harmony.

The term is usually used by scholars of the Germanic languages: it is particularly important in the history of the Germanic languages because inflectional suffixes with an /i/ or /j/ led to many vowel alternations that are still important in the morphology of the languages.

Germanic languages

Main article: Germanic umlaut

I-mutation took place separately in the various Germanic languages from around 450 or 500 AD in the North Sea area and affected all the early languages,[1] except for Gothic.[2] It seems to have taken effect earliest and most completely in Old English and Old Norse. It took place later in Old High German; by 900, its effects are consistently visible only in the spelling of Germanic */a/.

Other languages

I-mutation exists in many other languages but is often referred to by different names. However, in the Romance languages, it is more commonly called metaphony (from Ancient Greek, meaning "process of changing sounds", of which German umlaut is a translation).[citation needed] Meanwhile, in Celtic languages, it is referred to as affection.[citation needed] A type of i-mutation is also observed in Anatolian languages, including Hittite, Luwian, Lycian and Lydian.[3][4][5][6]

Korean language

Main article: Korean phonology

In Middle Korean, I-backward-sequenced vowels (ㅐ, ㅔ, ㅚ, ㅟ, ㅢ, ...) were diphthongs, i.e. ㅐ [aj], ㅔ [əj], ㅚ [oj], ㅟ [uj], ㅢ [ɯj ~ ɰi]. However, in early modern Korean, they are monophthongized by umlaut, i.e. ㅐ [ɛ], ㅔ [e], ㅚ [ø], ㅟ [y] with only one exception: ㅢ.[7] However, in late modern Korean, ㅟ is diphthongized to [ɥi].[8] Also, ㅚ is unstable and standard Korean allows to pronounce both [ø] and [we].[9][10]

In modern Korean language, there are two types of I-mutation, or I-assimilation: I-forward-assimilation (ㅣ 순행 동화) and I-backward-assimilation (ㅣ 역행 동화). Assimilation occurs when ㅣ is in front of (forward) or behind (backward) the syllable. In standard Korean, only a few words are allowed to assimilate, however, exceptions are often observed in some dialects and casual usage.[11] I-forward-assimilation adds [j] sound, but I-backward-assimilation causes vowel to umlaut.

See also


  1. ^ See Fausto Cercignani, Early "Umlaut" Phenomena in the Germanic Languages, in «Language», 56/1, 1980, pp. 126-136.
  2. ^ See Fausto Cercignani, Alleged Gothic Umlauts, in "Indogermanische Forschungen", 85, 1980, pp. 207-213.
  3. ^ Starke, Frank (1990). Untersuchung zur Stammbildung des keilschrift-luwischen Nomens. Studien zu den Boǧazköy-Texten. Vol. 31. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. ISBN 3-447-02879-3.
  4. ^ Melchert, Craig H. (2012). Orioles, V. (ed.). "Genitive Case and Possessive Adjective in Anatolian" (PDF). Per Roberto Gusmani: Linguistica Storica e Teorica. Udine: Forum: 273–286.
  5. ^ Yakubovich, Ilya (2015) "The Luwian Language". Oxford Handbooks Online.
  6. ^ Sasseville, David (2017). "The Lydian nominal paradigm of i-mutation". Indo-European Linguistics. 5: 130–146. doi:10.1163/22125892-00501002.
  7. ^ Ahn, Sang-Cheol; Iverson, Gregory K. (2005). "Structured imbalances in the emergence of the Korean vowel system". In Salmons, Joseph C.; Dubenion-Smith, Shannon (eds.). Historical Linguistics 2005. Madison, WI: John Benjamins. pp. 275–293. CiteSeerX doi:10.1075/cilt.284.21ahn. ISBN 9789027247995.
  8. ^ Lee, Iksop; Ramsey, S. Robert (2000). The Korean Language. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0791448311.
  9. ^ Kim-Renaud, Young-Key, ed. (1997). The Korean Alphabet: Its History and Structure. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press. pp. 169–170. ISBN 9780824817237.
  10. ^ Brown, Lucien; Yeon, Jaehoon, eds. (2015). The Handbook of Korean Linguistics. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9781118370933.
  11. ^ "한국어 어문 규범". Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. 2017-03-28. Retrieved 2020-04-08.