Metathesis in Language 2.0


Language Family
California Penutian, Yokuts


The intensive possessor suffix has the forms: [-ilin] and [-inl].




The consequent adjunctive suffix has the forms: [-halʔiyʔ] and [-hayʔl-].




Type(s) of metathesis

Type Status Optionality Position Location
a. CV Synchronic Obligatory Adjacent Suffix
b. CC Synchronic Obligatory Adjacent Suffix

Case types and qualities


Metathesis occurs in the intensive possessor suffix which displays two alternants, [-ilin] and [-inl-]. The VCVC alternant occurs word-finally while the VCC variant is realized before a vowel-initial suffix.

Intensive Possessor Suffix

'one with many head lice’
cawa:ʔan pattʰinl-i
‘[he] shouted at the one with many body-lice’

While the linear ordering of the consonants change by metathesis, the prosodic position of a given consonant is invariant. In both allomorphs, [n] is invariably in postvocalic position, while [l] always occurs in prevocalic position.

According to Newman (1944), ‘The same process takes place within the unanalyzable noun theme, Gashowu [ɕuʔlin] and Chawchila [ɕɔʔlin] ‘pine bur’ whose oblique stem is [ɕuʔinl-] and [ɕɔʔinl-].' (no examples are given.)




Metathesis is also observed in the consequent adjunctive suffix which shows the alternants [-hal’iy’] and [-hay’l-]. The former occurs finally in a phrase, or when preceding a word beginning with a consonant. The latter allomorph occurs when followed by a vowel-initial suffix, with deletion of the interconsonantal vowel of the morpheme.

Adjunctive suffix

‘place, put’
ʔamaʔ ʔamʔakʔ yɔʔ ta:winhalʔiyʔ wo:ʔuyʔay
‘and at dawn they fell asleep again’
xamithayʔla maxkʔa
‘fetch the scythe’

In each allomorph, the prosodic position of a given consonant is invariant, even though the linear ordering of the consonants change: [yʔ] is in postvocalic coda position in both alternants, while [lʔ] consistently occurs in prevocalic onset position.














Phonotactic Restrictions (Stonham 1994)
The sequence /ln/ is extremely rare in Chawchila. Only a single Chawchila form containing the sequence /ln/ was found in the word yukʔulnut , which has the root yukʔul and the final suffix -nut. The sequence /nl/, on the other hand, is found frequently. Thus, it can be considered that metathesis involving /l/ and /n/ occurs due to a phonotactic constraint in the language.

Perceptual Optimization (Hume 1997, 1998)
The presence of stress may provide insight into the occurrence of the nasal in postvocalic position. Newman states that stress is clearly marked in the language, falling on the penultimate syllable. Thus, in the sequence [VnlV], [n], which has less robust internal cues than the liquid, occurs as coda of the penultimate and, therefore, the most prominent syllable of the word. Given that the relevant parameter distinguishing /n/ and /l/ is one of manner of articulation, an additional factor favors the occurrence of the nasal in postvocalic position: anticipatory coarticulation in the form of vowel nasalization on a preceding vowel provides strong cues to the nasal manner.




Phonotactic Restrictions (Stonham 1994) There are no consonant clusters in the language whose first element is /l/ or /lʔ/ and whose second element is /y/ or /yʔ/. Metathesis occurs to yield the acceptable string /yl/ or /yʔl/ when such impermissible consonant clusters result from morphological concatenation.

Perceptual Optimization (Hume 1997, 1998)
The consonant [yʔ] is reported by Newman to be somewhat whispered in word-final position and preceding a consonant, while no breathiness is perceived in prevocalic position (Newman 1944). Thus, in the alternant [-hayʔl-], positioning [yʔ] before a consonant [l] by metathesis may serve to enhance the perceptibility of the consonant [yʔ].





ʔ = glottal stop
Cʔ = glottalized consonant
ɕ = voiceless alveo-palatal fricative





Should /n/ and /l/ be adjacent to a same vowel for the application of metathesis? Can the vowel [i] occur as an adjacent vowel of /n/ and /l/? That is, any metathesis data with other vowels? Given Newman (1944) "The same process takes place within the unanalyzable noun theme, Chawchila s*ɔ'lin 'pine bur' whose oblique stem is s*ɔ'inl-", same adjacent vowels are not a necessary condition for n/l metathesis.

Sonority cannot provide a unified account: In both morphemes, loss of the interconsonantal vowel positions the two consonants adjacent to one other. Metathesis results in the shift of the otherwise expected sequence *[VlʔyʔV] to [VyʔlV] for the adjunctive morpheme, and *[VlnV] to [VnlV] for the intensive possessor suffix. While the shift in the former would be consistent with observation concerning preferred syllable contacts, given that the more sonorous glide precedes the less sonorous lateral, such an account is not available for the intensive possessor suffix. If syllable contact were at issue, we would expect the ill-formed sequence *[VlnV] to remain unchanged.

The metathesis is motivated by acoustical and articulatory similarity between the two target segements. In both morphemes, the consonants which metathesize are acoustically and articulatorily similar. Hence, contrast is minimized.






  • Hume, Elizabeth. 1997. Towards an Explanation of Consonant/Consonant Metathesis. Ms OSU. Draft, v. 1.
  • Hume, Elizabeth. 1998. The Role of Perceptibility in Consonant/Consonant Metathesis. In Blake, Susan, Eun-Sook Kim, and Kimary Shahin (eds.), WCCFL XVII Proceedings. Stanford: CSLI. 293-307.
  • Newman, Stanley. 1944. Yokuts Language of California. New York: Viking Fund Publication in Anthropology, no.2.
  • Stonham, John. 1990. Current Issues in Morphological Theory. PhD dissertation. Stanford University.
  • Stonham, John. 1994. Combinatorial Morphology. Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science. Series IV, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory; v. 120. John Benjamins Publishing Company: Amsterdam/Philadelphia.