Metathesis in Language 2.0

Arabic (Bedouin)

Language Family


A preconsonantal guttural consonant metathesizes with a preceding low vowel in the CVCCVC verbal pattern.

Type(s) of metathesis

Type Status Optionality Position Location
a. CV Synchronic Obligatory Adjacent Root-internal

Case types and qualities


The present perfective generally has the structure CVCCVC as in the forms, 'he drinks', 'you write', 'we swim', shown on the left just below. However, the structure is instead CCVCVC when the second consonant is guttural and the preceding vowel is low. This is shown in the second column in the table below. If these forms followed the general pattern, illustrated in the leftmost column, we would expect the forms in the fourth column (the ill-formedness of these forms is indicated by an asterisk). (Al-Mozainy 1981, Al-Mozainy, Bley-Vroman & McCarthy 1985). In such cases, it can be assumed that the guttural consonant metathesizes with a preceding vowel, thus surfacing in prevocalic position, i.e. /yakhum/ -> [yhakum].

'he drinks’
'he rules’
'you write’
'she knows’
'we swim’
'we snatch’


The guttural consonant needs to (a) follow a low vowel, and (b) precede another consonant.


Acoustic and Auditory Similarity (Hume 1997, 1998): The contiguity of a consonant to a vowel with similar perceptual cues is one a motivating factor of Bedouin Arabic metathesis.

Perceptual Enhancement (Hume 1997): Compressed duration in word-medial position, in conjunction with insufficient spectral change resulting from contiguity to a preceding low vowel contributes to the vulnerability of the guttural consonant (Beckman & Edwards 1990, Wright 1996). By metathesizing the guttural consonant with the preceding low vowel, the guttural consonant is positioned in prevocalic position where its place cues are more salient given a more abrupt spectral change typically associated with this context .


ɕ = voiceless alveo-palatal fricative
ʕ = voiced pharyngeal fricative
r' = emphatic 'r'
h' = emphatic 'h'
t' = voiceless alveolar emphatic stop


Metathesis fails to apply when a guttural consonant follows a non-low vowel in pre-consonantal position, or when it follows a low vowel in pre-vocalic position. Any examples showing this?


  • Al-Mozainy, Hamza Qublan, Robert Bley-Vroman & John J. McCarthy. 1985. Stress Shift and Metrical Structure. Linguistic Inquiry 16, 1. 135-144.
  • Al-Mozainy, Hamza Qublan. 1981. Vowel Alternations in a Bedouin Hijazi Arabic Dialect: Abstractness and Stress. PhD dissertation. University of Texas at Austin.
  • Beckman, Mary & Jan Edwards. 1990. Lengthening and Shortening and the Nature of Prosodic Constituency. In J. Kingston and M. Beckman (eds.), Papers in Laboratory Phonology I: Between the Grammar and Physics of Speech. New York: CUP. 152-178.
  • 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.
  • Wright, Richard. 1996. Consonant Clusters and Cue Preservation in Tsou. PhD dissertation. UCLA.