Metathesis in Language 2.0


Language Family


Free variation in the order of a labial and velar stop is reported in five words in the language. As Sheldon Harrison (p.c) points out, the process is not otherwise regular.

Type(s) of metathesis

Type Status Optionality Position Location
a. CC Synchronic Optional Adjacent Root-internal

Case types and qualities


[apkas] ~ [akpas] ---> ‘now’
[dipkelkel] ~ [dikpelkel] ---> ‘to stumble’
[kapki:la] ~ [kakpi:la] ---> ‘to drop’
[apwkan] ~ [akpwan] ---> ‘in a little while’
[epwki] ~ [ekpwi] ---> ‘hundred’


No conditions could be found


Acoustic and auditory similarity

The observation that only a labial and velar stop undergo metathesis but no others can be attributed to the acoustic and auditory similarity between the two consonants (Hume 1997). This similarity is recognized in the feature geometry of Jakobson, Fant, & Halle (1952) in which labials and velars are classified as [grave], a class which includes sounds having energy predominantly in the lower end of the spectrum. The fact that the velar and labials of Mokilese are identical in terms of voicing, manner, and sonorancy further contributes to their similarity.

Perceptual enhancement

All else being equal, the contextual cues to place of articulation for labial consonants are weaker than those for velars. Vowel transitions of labial consonants are inherently short, and the amplitude of a labial's release burst is fairly weak (Ohala 1996). The shift of the more vulnerable labial consonant from postvocalic preconsonantal position to the more salient prevocalic position can therefore be interpreted as a means of enhancing the cues for place of articulation of the labial and, thus, strengthening the contrast between the labial and the adjacent velar and other stops in the language (Hume 1997, 1998).




  • Harrison, Sheldon. 1976. Mokilese Reference Grammar. Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press.
  • 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.
  • Jakobson, Roman, Gunnar Fant and Morris Halle. 1952. Preliminaries to speech analysis. The distinctive features and their correlates. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.