Metathesis in Language 2.0

What is metathesis?

Metathesis is a linguistic pattern in which two sounds occur in one order in one form of a particular word, but in the opposite order in another form of the same word.

For example, in the Austronesian language Leti, the final consonant and vowel in a particular word can occur in both possible orders: a word like ukar 'finger' can also be pronounced ukra. The choice between the two orders depends on several factors, including the number of consecutive consonants at the beginning of the next word. If the next word begins with only one consonant (such as lavan 'big'), the vowel comes first, as in ukar lavan 'thumb, big toe'. If the next word begins with multiple consecutive consonants (or a geminate, as in ppalu 'bachelor'), the consonant comes first, as in ukra ppalu 'index finger'.

Across different languages, metathesis has been described as conditioned by phonology (as in Leti), morphology (e.g., the order of two sounds might be reversed in the singular and plural forms of a word), speech errors, historical changes that are likely related to speech perception or the ease of speech production, and other factors. For an overview of linguistic research on metathesis, see the following paper:

Hume, E., & Seyfarth, S. (2019). Metathesis. In M. Aronoff (Ed.), Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0242

What is the goal of this site?

Metathesis is relatively uncommon, and it has been controversial in linguistic research. Do language-users use it productively to create new wordforms, or does it only develop as the result of sound changes over the history of a language? Is phonological re-ordering truly a distinct sound pattern, or is it better understood as a combination of other patterns? Can it be accommodated by the linguistic theories and formal languages that have been used to describe sound patterns more generally?

The goal of this project is to provide a broad empirical basis for studying metathesis. This site has a browsable and searchable database of all reported cases of metathesis in the world's languages. Because many of these cases are controversial, we have chosen to be as inclusive as possible, and it is likely that some of the reported cases listed here are not true cases of metathesis. Our hope is that this project will facilitate future research on descriptions, explanations, theories, and typologies of metathesis.

To submit new cases, references, corrections to the database, or comments on anything listed on this site, please contact the current site maintainer via the Contacts page linked below.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9809732 to Elizabeth Hume. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.