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As I was waiting for the tram the other day in İstanbul I spotted an ad for Sony digital cameras on the side of a bus. The text of the ad ran:

Herkesin bir Sony Cybershot'ı var.

This could be glossed as:

Sony Cybershot-ı
Sony Cybershot-3p.possessed

The sentence can be translated idiomatically into English as 'Everyone has a Sony Cybershot.' The term 'Sony Cybershot', a trademark used to identify a particular model of Sony camera, has clearly been coined in English, from 'cyber-', a prefix normally used to describe something that relates to computers or other modern digital technology (and which sounds really cool), plus 'shot', meaning a photograph. This trademark could be pronounced in several different ways, depending on which variety of English it is said in. But the text of the original Turkish ad provides a hint as to what pronunciation the advertisers intended.

The hint comes from the vowel harmony. In Turkish the only fixed feature of the vowels in most suffixes is their height, with the other features being determined by vowel harmony. This means that the vowels in these suffixes must agree with the vowel they follow for backness and, if they are high vowels, also for roundedness. For example, the vowel in the suffix '-lI', which derives adjectives from nouns, is a high vowel. If the suffix is attached to the noun 'konfor' (comfort), the resulting form is 'konforlu' (comfortable). The vowel that occurs in the suffix, 'u', is a high back rounded vowel. Its backness and roundedness match those of the preceding vowel, 'o'.

The vowel that appears in the suffix attached to 'Cybershot' is 'ı' (IPA: ɯ). This is a high back unrounded vowel. As in the example above, the height of the vowel is fixed but the backness and roundedness of the vowel are determined by harmony. So the preceding vowel – that is, the 'o' of 'Cybershot' – must be a back unrounded vowel. This came as a surprise to me. In my native variety of English I would pronounce 'Cybershot' something like ['sʌɪbəʃɒt], with the vowel [ɒ] for the 'o' in 'shot'. [ɒ] is a rounded vowel and so the vowel in the suffix should be 'u' [u].

But there are English varieties where the 'o' in 'shot' would be unrounded. In what could be described as General American English the pronunciation of 'Cybershot' would probably be closer to ['saɪbəɹʃɑt].1 The vowel [ɑ] for 'o' in 'shot' is the unrounded equivalent of [ɒ]. The unrounded vowel in 'shot' found in the General American pronunciation would call for the high back unrounded vowel 'ı' [ɯ] in the suffix. So the advertisers must have intended their trademark to be pronounced with this sort of American accent. If you don't read it in this way, you risk breaking the rules of Turkish vowel harmony.

1 The vowel in 'shot' should appear as the script a symbol, which represents a low back unrounded vowel in the IPA. I have found that some browsers do not display this character properly.


Sony's Turkish page on the Cybershot (which James pointed me to) has another example of the same harmony

'of your Cybershot'
(Hat tip: Nick Ostler)

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