Metathesis in Language 2.0


Language Family
Straits Salish


Some roots alternate between forms with CC' and C'C.

Type(s) of metathesis

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

Case types and qualities


Certain roots in Lummi alternate between a form of CC' and C'C. The forms below from Demers (1974) show this alternation: the forms in columns A and B have a C'C stem, while the forms in C have a CC' stem.

cə́stŋs 'he's getting hit' cə́ssən 'I got hit' csə́tŋs 'someone hit him'
tə́st 'he's breaking it' tə́s 'it got smashed' tsə́tsən 'I smashed it'
qə́pŋ 'gathering' qə́p 'gather' qpə́ts 'they gather it'

This is similar in some respects to the related language Clallam. Demers offers an alternative example for the analysis of this data. His basic claim is that the roots are underlying bisyllabic (C'!C') but that unstressed schwas are deleted. Moreover, in the cases where metathesis is apparently occurring, there is a rule of stress protraction causing stress to move to the second syllable of the word when the root is followed by two or more consonants. See the section on 'Conditions for Metathesis' for an alternative to Demers' account using metathesis and not vowel deletion.


While Demers characterizes the root alternations as a process of deletion of unstressed schwa, it could also be analyzed as a process of metathesis. One option is to assume that metathesis is morphologically conditioned. However, Demers argues that the schwa deletion is phonologically predictable, so apparently metathesis would be then as well. Adapting Demer’s bisyllabic analysis, metathesis would occur to when a root was followed by two consonants or more consonants, as exemplified from the (b) and (c) paradigms in the examples section: Non-Metathesized (b) cə́ssən ‘I got hit’ tə́s ‘It got smashed’ Methathesized (c) csə́tŋs ‘Someone hit him’ tsə́tsən ‘I smashed it’ However, the forms in (a) are apparent exceptions to this rule: (a) (c) cə́stŋs ‘He’s getting hit’ csə́tŋs ‘Someone hit him’ On the surface, these two forms are identical except for the difference in whether the root has metathesized or not. Demers argues, however, that the forms in (a) have an underlying glottal stop preceding the second root consonant that is deleted. With an analysis involving metathesis, the forms in (a) could be treated as having the same rule of metathesis as above, except that the glottal stop would metathesize and then subsequently delete. This analysis would be difficult in a surface- constraint driven theory.


No motivations could be found



Lummi differs from Clallam in that, according to Demers, there is no other pattern of (apparent) metathesis other than root alternation. Additionally, metathesis in Lummi affects only schwa, while in Clallam metathesis also affects [i] and [u].


  • Demers, Richard A. 1974. Alternating Roots in Lummi. International Journal of American Linguistics 40. 15-21.
  • Thompson, Laurence 1972. Un cas de métaphonie en Lummi. Langues et techniques, nature et société. Paris: Klincksieck.