Metathesis in Language 2.0


Language Family
North Germanic, West Scandinavian


In a regular and obligatory process, a coronal fricative and a velar stop metathesize under certain conditions.

Type(s) of metathesis

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

Case types and qualities


A velar stop /k/ metathesizes with an adjacent coronal fricative /s/ just in case it is followed by another stop consonant. There are no words with /s/ adjacent to a stop other than velar in the relevant context for metathesis so it is not possible to test whether the process occurs with all stops or just the velar. Since similar processes (e.g. stop deletion) affect all stops under similar conditions, it is fair to assume that metathesis would also affect stops at other places of articulation if words of this form were to occur. Similarly, all examples show that metathesis is triggered when the following stop is coronal /t/. No suffixes begin with stops at other places of articulation so again, it is not possible to determine whether all stops trigger the process, though it is reasonable to assume that that would be the case given the similar patterning of stops in other processes (see Related Processes ).ø-suffix) Masc. sg.(-or)   Gloss
fɛsk fɛskor fɛkst *fɛskt ‘fresh’
dansk danskor daŋkst *daŋskt ‘Danish’
svɛnsk svɛnskor svɛnkst *svɛnskt ‘Swedish’

stem pres. sg. pastsg.   Gloss
insk- inskir iŋ(k)sti *inskti ‘to wish’


a. Metathesis applies just in case a medial stop is followed by another stop consonant, as shown in the examples above. A medial stop consonant is preserved in a triconsonantal cluster when followed by a non-stop, both in monomorphemic and polymorphemic forms, e.g. vask / vasks ‘sink, nom./’.

b. Metathesis only occurs in a stressed syllable. (Stress in Faroese typically falls on the initial, or only, syllable of a word.) In cases in which /k/ would be expected to occur in an unstressed syllable by metathesis, /k/ deletes instead.

Metathesis (stressed syll.) : 'dansk, 'danskor, 'daŋkst ‘Danish, stem/’ *'daŋskt Deletion (unstressed syll.) : 'røs:ɪsk, 'røs:ɪskor, 'røs:ɪst, ‘Russian, stem/’ *'røs:ɪskt, *'røs:ɪkst

c. Metathesis applies when /sk+t/ is preceded by a vowel or a nasal consonant, but fails to apply when the sequence is preceded by a liquid. In this case, the velar stop deletes, e.g. falsk, falskor, falst *falkst ‘false, stem/’.


Perceptual Optimization (Hume 1998, 2000): Shifting the velar stop in metathesis from between two consonants to postvocalic position enhances the perceptibility of the stop consonant given the presence of the vowel transition (the velar stop is also preaspirated in this position which may serve as a further acoustic cue to the identity of the consonant as a stop). The fricative /s/ has stronger segment internal acoustic cues to its manner and place of articulation so fares better between two consonants than the stop consonant would.



See Lithuanian for a similar type of metathesis.


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  • 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.
  • Hume, Elizabeth. 2000. Metathesis: Data, Motivation and Phonological Theory. In E. Hume, N. Smith & J. van de Weijer (eds.), Surface Syllable Structure and Segment Sequencing. Leiden: HIL.
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  • Seo, Misun, and Elizabeth Hume. 2000. A comparative OT account of metathesis in Faroese and Lithuanian. In E. Hume, N. Smith & J. van de Weijer (eds.), Surface Syllable Structure and Segment Sequencing. Leiden: HIL.