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Lithuanian

(Lithuania; Indo-European, Baltic)

Summary:
A velar stop metathesizes with an adjacent coronal fricative when followed by another stop consonant.
Examples:
3rd past imper. sing. infinitive Gloss
tv y eske tv y eksk tv y eksti flash briefly
breSko brekSk brekSti break (of dawn)
brizgo briksk briksti fray
Conditions:
a. Metathesis applies across a morpheme boundary, but not a word boundary.

b. Following segment: Metathesis applies before any consonant.
__ stop ---> mezge ---> meksk ---> meksti ---> knit; 3rd past, imper. sg., inf.
__ fricative ---> triSko trikSta(< triSk-sta; see Related processes) sprout; present, past
__ liquid ---> nyurzgya ---> nyurgzli:s ---> growl; 3rd pres., agent noun

c. Preceding segment:
i. Metathesis occurs when the fricative/stop sequence is preceded by a vowel. Also, although there are no alternations showing metathesis when a nasal consonant precedes, all surface sequences with a preceding nasal reveal the same order as would be expected had metathesis applied, i.e. VN(k)[fric]C, not *Vn[fric]kC, e.g. bruN(g)zge, bruN(k)sk 'grinding stone; 3rd sg. past, imper.sg.'.
ii. Metathesis occurs when the fricative/stop sequence is preceded by a liquid, e.g. urzge, urksk, urksti ‘to grumble; 3rd sg. past, imper.sg., infin.’

d. Stress plays no role; metathesis applies regardless of whether the adjacent context is stressed or unstressed, e.g. mézge, méksk, méksti, megzlí:s ‘knit; 3rd past, imper. sg., infin., agent noun’. Compare Faroese metathesis in which stress is relevant.

e. As a synchronic phonological process, the direction of change in metathesis is: [fricative] [stop] -> [stop][fricative], when preceded by a sonorant and followed by a consonant, e.g. /plyesk-ti/ -> [plyeksti] 'to flash intensely', cf. [plyeske]. See Seo & Hume 2000 for evidence supporting this direction.
Motivation:
Perceptual optimization (Seo & Hume 2000; Steriade 2000): In the expected (but non-occurring) unmetathesized form (VSkC), the stop would be flanked by consonants and thus, be in a context with poor perceptual cues (absence of vowel formant transitions, potential absence of release burst, compressed duration (masking) of phonetic cues). Metathesis serves to improve the global perceptibility of the context; reversing the order of the fricative and stop positions the weaker stop in a more robust context, i.e. post-vocalic. The gain in perceptibility achieved by moving the stop to postvocalic position outweighs any potential loss incurred by shifting the fricative to interconsonantal position. Given the fricative's stonger internal cues, it fares better in interconsonantal position.
Related Information:
a. Phonotactics of Lithuanian: No monomorphemic word has a sequence of [fricative] + [stop] + [stop].

b. Adjacent sibilants contract, i.e. S, Z + s -> S.

c. Voicing assimilation: All obstruent clusters are either voiceless or voiced, depending on the voicing of the last element.
Symbols:
S = voiceless palato-alveolar fricative
Z = voiced palato-alveolar fricative
N = velar nasal consonant

See metathesis in Faroese for a similar pattern.

Last Updated: 6/15/2007
References:
eliabeth hume's home page | OSU Linguistics home page