Metathesis in Language 2.0

Kwara'ae (Fiu)

Language Family
Malayo-Polynesian, Malaita


A consonant metathesizes with a following vowel.

Type(s) of metathesis

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

Case types and qualities


Sohn (1980)

‘bailer, to bail’
‘bail it’ (-a = 3rd pers. obj. suffix)
‘to help’
‘help it’ (-a = 3rd pers. obj. suffix)
‘public area’
‘your pbulic area’ (-um = ‘your’)
‘their name’ (-ad = ‘their’)
‘my cheek’ (-uk = ‘my’)

Pawley (1982) a. When the underlying ‘v1cv2’ is aCi, aCu, aCo, uCi or eCo, and C is not a nasal, it is realized as [v1v2 cv^2] or [v1v2c(v2)], where v^ denotes a partially devoiced vowel, and (v) denotes a completely devoiced vowel (that is to say, the lips form or retain the shape of the preceding vowel but no sound can be heard).

'to shelter'

b. When the underlying sequence ‘v1cv1’ contains identical vowels, it is realized as [v1:cv^1] or [v1:c(v 1)]. That is, the second vowel shows up as additional vowel length before C, as well as appearing after C as a devoiced vowel. Before glottal stop, there is no preconsonantal vowel lengthening.

'lie, tell untruth'
'lie, tell untruth'
'their name'


A consonant which is not preceded by a vowel is never metathesized with the following vowel (Sohn 1980).

person marker


Economy of speech effort (Sohn 1980): Metathesis occurs in Kwara'ae to minimize the number of syllables by converting open to closed syllables, with a minimum loss of phonological features as well as communication.

Gradual sound change (Pawley 1982): The appearance of metathesis having taken place in Kwara'ae is the cumulative effect of two phonological processes, anticipatory vowel copying and vowel reduction.




  • Deck, N. C. 1933-34. Grammar of the language spoken by the Kwara'ae people of Malta, British Solomon Islands. Journal of the Polynesian Society 42, 33-48, 133-144, 241-256; and 43, 1-16.
  • Pawley, Andrew. 1982. Kwara’ae ‘Metathesis’ as a Gradual Sound Change. Ling 83. 102.
  • Sohn, Ho-min. 1980. Metathesis in Kwara’ae. Lingua 52. 305-323.
  • Watson-Gegeo, Karen Ann, and David W. Gegeo. 1986. Calling-out and repeating routines in Kwara’ae children’s language socialization. Language socialization across cultures, ed. by Bambi B. Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs, 17-50. Cambridge University Press.