Are there languages without vowel reduction? That is, are there languages in which the vowels in certain syllables are not centralized and/or "de-rounded" and/or shortened because of speaking rate, stress patterns, etc.?

I've heard that Hungarian is such a language. If so, why does it lack vowel reduction?

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    Szeredi (2009 Master Thesis) says that Hungarian does have vowel reduction, but that it is a phonetic and not phonemic process. So perhaps this is a definitional question too. – Mark Beadles Aug 21 '12 at 14:28
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    Syllable-timed languages generally allot the same amount of time to each vowel, making reduction rarer. It's stress-timed languages like English that do vowel reduction big time. – jlawler Aug 22 '12 at 2:59
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    @jlawler, Japanese is mora-timed, but has vowels that are devoiced. Not sure if that qualifies as reduction, though. – dainichi Aug 22 '12 at 4:47
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    The OP asked about centralization, derounding, and shortening. Dunno if devoicing qualifies. – jlawler Aug 22 '12 at 14:48
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    Do you want the phonetic or the phonemic answer or both? Your question is a bit vague. – kaleissin Aug 23 '12 at 10:37

If you mean 'a vowel phoneme moving to another vowel sound in the unstressed position in a syllable-timed language', then yes. Spanish and its ancestor Latin do not have vowel reduction. If you expand your definition of vowel reduction to include derounding, shortening, devoicing, elision, ATR movement, monophthongization, and so on, then languages like Japanese would have vowel reduction. Fast speech does not count for vowel reduction—everything "reduces" when people speak quickly, but that's not a property of the phonological system.

Vowel reduction must be phonetic and not phonemic or else another word is being formed: If you had the word [bula] and it "reduced" to [bʊla], but [bʊla] was another word in the language (/ʊ/ is a phoneme), then you would be dealing with homophony.


Yes, there are such languages. E.g. Polish, Finnish and Spanish (not mentioning monosyllable Chinese), although Spanish shows some vowel fusion in certain clusters. Oh, and Japanese, too.

As for Hungarian, it has the classical (Proto)Fenno-Ugric CV(C) syllable structure.

The Fenno-Ugric (and Altaic) syllable structure might correspond (or not) to the syllable structures of Paleo-Asiatic languages, some of which might have both vowel and consonant harmony, a feature now survivived in peculiar consonant and/or vowel alteration patterns of Native American languages.

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