Metathesis in Language 2.0


Language Family


An obstruent stop and liquid metathesize in the formation of plural nouns.

Type(s) of metathesis

Type Status Optionality Position Location
a. CC Synchronic Obligatory Adjacent Root-final

Case types and qualities


Metathesis occurs in the plural formation of nouns. One type of plural is formed by the addition of the suffix /-o/, e.g. karris, karris-o ‘cheek, sing./plur.’. When the medial or final consonant of a bisyllabic noun is a (nongeminate) liquid, the vowel of the last syllable elides, e.g. ilik, ilk-o 'tooth, sing./plur.’. Metathesis occurs in nouns of this group when an obstruent stop would otherwise occur before the liquid.

Singular Plural
tikir tirk-o 'catfish’
deker derk-o 'horn’
mukul mulk-o 'iron’


No conditions could be found


Sonority (Syllable contact)
Within a syllable-based approach, the reordering of the obstruent and liquid could be analyzed as being due to a constraint on syllable contact, along the lines proposed by Vennemann (1988) for Sidamo . Under the assumption that the stop and liquid belong to different syllables, the preferred ordering would place the stop after the liquid since the liquid is more sonorous than the stop.

Perceptual Enhancement (Hume 1997, 1998)
Metathesis may serve to position a stop consonant with vulnerable cues to place of articulation, in particular, in a position where its perceptibility is enhanced. Liquids have stronger internal cues to both place and manner. Stops, on the other hand, depend to a greater extent on contextual cues for information conerning place. Since Elmolo stops are not released in preconsonantal position, the occurrence of the stop consonant in prevocalic position facilitates identification of velar place, given the presence of both the transition and release burst.




  • 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.
  • Zaborsky, Andrzej. 1986. The Morphology of Nominal Plural in the Cushitic Languages. Institute für Afrikanistik und Agyptologie der Universität Wien. Wien.