From Academic Kids

Metathesis is a sound change that alters the order of phonemes in a word. The most common instance of metathesis is the reversal of the order of two adjacent phonemes.

Many languages have words that show this phenomenon, and some use it as a regular part of their grammar (eg Fur). The process of metathesis has altered the shape of many familiar words in the English language, too.


Metathesis in English

The use of ax for ask goes back to Old English days, when ascian and axian were both in use. Some other frequently heard pronunciations in English that display metathesis are:

The process has shaped many English words historically. Bird in English was once bryd, run was once irnan, horse was hros, wasp is also recorded as wæps and hasp, hæps. The discrepancy between the spelling of iron and the usual pronunciation is the result of metathesis.

Metathesis in Spanish

Old Spanish showed occasional metathesis when phonemes not conforming to the usual euphonic constraints were joined. This happened, for example, when a clitic pronoun was attached to a verb ending: it is attested that forms like dejadle "leave him" were often metathesized to dejalde (the phoneme cluster /dl/ is not allowed anywhere else in Spanish).

Lunfardo, an argot of Spanish from Buenos Aires, is fond of vesre, a form of intentional metathesis that involves changes in the order of whole syllables as well as individual phonemes.

Metathesis in Navajo

In Navajo, verbs have (often multiple) morphemes prefixes onto the verb stem. These prefixes are added to the verb stem in a set order in a prefix positional template. Although prefixes are generally found in a specific position, some prefixes change order by the process of metathesis.

For example, prefix 'a- (3i object pronoun) usually occurs before di-, as in

adisbąąs 'I'm starting to drive some kind of wheeled vehicle along' [ < 'a- + di- + sh- + ł + -bąąs].

However, when 'a- occurs with the prefixes di- and ni-, the 'a- metathesizes with di-, leading to an order of di- + 'a- + ni-, as in

di'nisbąąs 'I'm in the act of driving some vehicle (into something) & getting stuck' [ < di-'a-ni-sh-ł-bąąs < 'a- + di- + ni- + sh- + ł + -bąąs]

instead of the expected adinisbąąs ('a-di-ni-sh-ł-bąąs) (note also that 'a- is reduced to '-).

Metathesis in Straits Saanich

In Straits Saanich metathesis is used as a grammatical devise to indicate "actual" aspect. The actual aspect is most often translated into English as a be ... -ing progressive. The actual aspect is derived from the "nonactual" verb form by a CV → VC metathesis process (i.e. consonant metathesizes with vowel).

'shove' (nonactual) — 'shoving' (actual)
'scatter' (nonactual) — 'scattering' (actual)
'pinch' (nonactual) — 'pinching' (actual)

See also

External links


  • Montler, Timothy. (1986). An outline of the morphology and phonology of Saanich, North Straits Salish. Occasional Papers in Linguistics (No. 4). Missoula, MT: University of Montana Linguistics Laboratory. (Revised version of the author's PhD dissertation, University of Hawaii).
  • Young, Robert W., & Morgan, William, Sr. (1987). The Navajo language: A grammar and colloquial dictionary, (rev. ed.). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1014-1

Metathesis is used in chemistry as a synonym for olefin (taalkunde)


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