Metathesis in Language 2.0


Language Family


Metathesis involves a stem-initial coronal sibilant and the /t/ prefix of binyan 5 perfective verbs. By metathesis, the stop consonant is realized after the sibilant.

Type(s) of metathesis

Type Status Optionality Position Location
a. CC Synchronic Obligatory Adjacent Between root and prefix

Case types and qualities


In Modern Hebrew, binyan 5 of perfective verbs typically has the form: [hit]+verb , as shown in (a) (the prefix /t/ agrees in voicing with an adjacent obstruent); /h-/ is a perfective prefix, /-t-/ is the binyan 5 morpheme, and /i/ is epenthetic. However, when the stem-initial consonant is a coronal sibilant (c, s, z, ʃ), the /t/ of the prefix occurs to its right, as in (b).

/hi + t + nakem/ > hitnakem > ‘he took revenge'
/hi + t + raxec/ > hitraxec > ‘he washed himself’
/hi + t + balet/ > hidbalet > ‘he became prominent’
/hi + t + darder/ > hiddarder > ‘he declined, rolled down’
/hi + t + kabel/ > hitkabel > ‘it was accepted’

/hi + t + sarek/ > histarek > ‘he combed his (own) hair'
/hi + t + zaken/ > hizdaken > ‘he grew old’
/hi + t + calem/ > hictalem > ‘he took pictures of himself'
/hi + t + ʃamer/ > hiʃtamer > ‘he preserved himself'


While /t/ metathesizes with a contiguous coronal sibilant in forms such as /hi+t+ ʃadel/ [hiʃtadel] ‘he endeavored’, no metathesis occurs when the coronal segments are tautomorphemic, as in /hi+tʃiʃ/ [hitʃiʃ] *[hiʃtiʃ] ‘he exhausted’. The crucial difference between the two sequences may be rooted in the observation that the coronal stop in the latter constitutes part of a morpheme, while in the former it is an entire morpheme in and of itself; thus, all information regarding the binyan 5 morpheme is contained in the affix /t/. If this consonant is weakly audible or entirely masked it is reasonable to assume that the identity of the entire morpheme would be jeopardized (Hume 1997).


Perceptual Optimization (Hume 1997, 1998): The observation that /t/ only metathesizes with a contiguous coronal sibilant is attributed to the acoustic and auditory similarity between the two consonants. The contiguous consonants at issue are similar in terms of sonorancy, voicing and coronal place, differing only in manner of articulation. Prevocalic position is a particularly favorable position for the realization of stop consonants, given the presence of both a vowel transition and release burst in this context. In preconsonantal position, on the other hand, no audible release of the stop is present. Thus, shifting the coronal stop /t/ with vulnerable cues to prevocalic position, at the expense of sibilants with stronger internal cues, strengthens the syntagmatic contrast between the stop and contiguous sibilant. This, in turn, may be viewed as a means of preserving the identity of the binyan 5 morpheme.


ʃ = voiceless palato-alveolar fricative


M&H do not indicate whether metathesis occurs in other environments.


  • Bat-El, Outi. 1988. Remarks on Tier Conflation. Linguistic Inquiry 19 (3). 477-485.
  • Bat-El, Outi. 1989. Phonology and Word Structure in Modern Hebrew. PhD dissertation.UCLA.
  • Bat-El, Outi. 1992. Stem Modification and Cluster Transfer in Modern Hebrew. ms. Tel-Aviv University.
  • Dor, Daniel 1993. Deriving the verbal paradigm of Modern Hebrew: A constraint-based approach. ms. Stanford University, Stanford, California.
  • 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.