LINGUIST List 6.1017

Fri Jul 28 1995

Sum: Metathesis

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  1. , Sum: metathesis

Message 1: Sum: metathesis

Date: Fri, 28 Jul 1995 17:37:22 Sum: metathesis
From: <>
Subject: Sum: metathesis

Back in May I posted a query on both LINGUIST and AN-LANG
(Austronesian Languages and Linguistics) asking for references
on treatments of metathesis using recent phonological theory.
I was mainly interested in synchronic metathesis of C/V type,
which occurs pervasively in Dawan (W.Timor) which I was doing
a bit of work on. This is a summary of responses on both
lists, which came from: Juliette Blevins, Bob Blust, Jim Fox,
Beth Hume, Greg Kinkley, John McCarthy, Andy Pawley, John
Stonham, Mark Taber, and Aone van Engelenhoven.

It turns out that metathesis has come to play a fairly
important role in recent discussions of morphological and
phonological theory. Also more and more examples of metathesis
as a synchronic phenomenon have been coming to light in
various language descriptions. Austronesian languages have
provoked considerable interest, with Rotuman probably the best
known (e.g. Besnier 1987), Letinese (van Engelenhoven) and
Dawan (Steinhauer, Tarno et al.) becoming better known in the
literature, and (Chuck and Barabara Grimes p.c.) a number of
other languages of Eastern Indonesia exhibiting varieties of
metathesis waiting in the wings for examination by
theoreticians (e.g. Christensen and Christensen 1992; Coward
1990; Coward and Coward to appear; Marshall 1991; Steven
1990; Taber and Taber 1992 - references provided by Mark

Metathesis is a relatively rare phenomenon in natural
language. In a climate where theoreticians are wanting more
and more to let universal principles and constraints explain
the output of grammars, it appears to contravene constraints
that both phonologists and morphologists would like to impose
on languages. An important change suggested in autosegmental
theory which was designed to accommodate some crucial
instances of metathesis without appealing to movement rules,
was the segregation of C and V tiers, applied to Rotuman in
Besnier (1987).

Since then moves have been made to make constraints and their
interplay the foundation of theory more directly, and the
trend seems to be towards abandoning such devices as tier
segregation, at least in Optimality Theory. In Optimality
Theory, one of the constraints suggested is that segments
should preserve their linear order (LINEARITY: McCarthy 1995).
obviously overridden in heavily metathesising languages like
Dawan. In approaches within Optimality theory (McCarthy, Hume)

one principle can dominate another principle, and therefore
override it. In C/V metathesising languages, under certain
conditions a principle demanding (morpheme- or word-) final
closed syllables dominates others which would achieve contrary
effects, allowing metathesis to occur [apologies for mangling
complex arguments in an attempt at one-line summary].

Another problem raised by metathesis in the realm of
morphology is noted by Stonham (1994:141-2):"It defies the use
of concatenative accounts of morphological effects...It has
been called upon as a key example of the need for process-
based morphology in such works as Anderson (1983, 1992), Janda
(1984) and Zwicky (1988)". Stonham argues to the contrary that
difficulties encountered by combinatorial morphology in
handling metathesis do not show that the theory is inadequate
or processes like movement rules are needed: rather the
difficulties reflect the fact that metathesis does not occur
as a grammatical marker. He reanalyses several instances of
apparent grammatical metathesis as resulting from phonological

This approach looks promising, at least for Dawan, where much
of the metathesis looks as if it could be ultimately
prosodically motivated, although I can't prove that right now.
Although Blevins (1994) is more about such things as vowel
length than metathesis directly, the approach, which
emphasises looking at metathesis not as an isolated
phenomenon, but in the context of a full prosodic analysis, is
admirable. Such analysis would need to take into account
discourse conditioning too, as noted by Mark Taber for Luang.


 Anderson, Stephen R. (1983) Rules as 'Morphemes' in a
theory of inflection. in D.Rood ed. Proceedings of the 1983
Mid-America Linguistics Conference. 3-21. Boulder: U Colorado.

 Anderson, Stephen R. (1992) A-Morphous Morphology.
Cambridge University Press.
 Besnier, Niko (1987) An Autosegmental approach to
metathesis in Rotuman. Lingua 73:201-223.
 Blevins, Juliette (1994) The Bimoraic Foot in Rotuman
Phonology and Morphology. Oceanic Linguistics. 33.2:491-516.
 Christensen, John and Sylvia (1992) Kisar Phonology. In:
Phonological studies in four languages of Maluku. Ed. by
Donald A. Burquest and Wyn D. Laidig: 33-65. Dallas: The
Summer Institute of Linguistics.
 Coward, David F. (1990) An Introduction to the Grammar
of Selaru. M.A. Thesis. Arlington: University of Texas at
 Coward, David F., and Naomi Coward. (In Press) A
Phonological Sketch of the Selaru Language. To appear in
Pacific Linguistics.
 Hume, Elizabeth (1995) A Prosodic Theory of Metathesis.
Ms. Ohio State University.
 Hume, Elizabeth (in press) Beyond Linear Order: Prosodic
Constraints and C/V Metathesis. Proceedings of FLSM6. Indiana
Linguistics Club.
 Janda, Richard (1984) Why morphological metathesis rules
are rare: on the possibilities of historical explanation in
linguistics. BLS. 10:87-103.
 McCarthy, John (1989) Linear Order in Phonological
Theory. Linguistic Inquiry 20.1:71-100.
 McCarthy, John (1995) Extensions of faithfulness: Rotuman
revisited. Ms.
 Marshall, Craig(1991) A Phonology of Fordata. M.A.
Thesis. Arlington: University of Texas at Arlington.
 Mettler, Toni and Heidi (?) Phonological sketch of
Yamdena. Working Papers in Indonesian Language & Culture 8
29 - 79
 Steinhauer, Hein (1991) Morphemic metathesis in Dawanese
(Timor). Paper to 6th International Conference on Austronesian
 Steinhauer, Hein (1994) [?title] on metathesis in
Dawanese verbs, in: Ger. P. Reesink ed.Topics in Descriptive
Austronesian Linguistics, Semaian 11, Leiden: Dep. of
Languages & Cultures of S.E. Asia & Oceania : 130-158.
 Steven, Lee Anthony. 1990. The Phonology of Roma, an
Austronesian language of Eastern Indonesia. M.A. Thesis.
Arlington: University of Texas at Arlington.
 Stonham, John (1994) Combinatorial Morphology. Amsterdam:
Jon Benjamins.
 Taber, Mark, and Kathy Taber. 1992-MS. A Phonological
sketch of the Luang language. Unpublished manuscript.
 Tarno, Wakidi, S.J. Mboeik, P.Sawardo, S. Kushyaryanto
(1989) Tata Bahasa Dawan. Proyek Penelitan Bahasa dan Sastra
Indonesia Dan Derah Nusa Tenggara Timur Pusat Pembinaan dan
Pengembangan Bahasa Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan.
 Van der Hulst, Harry & Aone van Engelenhoven (1995)
Metathesis Effects in Tutukeian-Letinese, in Harry van der
Hulst & Jeroen van de Weijer eds.Leiden in Last, Proceedings
(or Papers?) of HILP 1.The Hague: Holland Academic Graphics.
 Zwicky, Arnold (1988) Morphological Rules, Operations and
Operation Types. ESCOL. 4: 318-334.

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