Metathesis in Language 2.0


Language Family
Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic


CV metathesis is observed by comparing short/incomplete and long/complete stem allomorphs.

Type(s) of metathesis

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

Case types and qualities


Complete Incomplete  
hula hual 'moon'
hɔsa hɔas 'flower'
rito riot ‘to glitter’


a. Final V-slot deletion (Besnier 1987)
Rotuman metathesis in an incomplete form is triggered by deletion of the final V-slot deletion, thus leaving the feature matrix of the final vowel floating. This deletion rule only applies if the resulting configuration can be syllabified. Thus, no deletion rule applies in cases of monosyllabic words such as ma ‘and, just’, ke ‘instead’, etc.


a. Autosegmental Approach (Besnier 1987)

Assuming that consonants and vowels occur on two distinct tiers, Rotuman metathesis is treated as a rule where the final V-slot of the CV-tier is deleted, thus leaving the feature matrix of the final vowel floating. The floating feature matrix is reassociated to the first V-slot to the left and to avoid the structure having two vocalic segments under one V-slot, different processes such as diphthongization, umlaut, and vowel deletion apply.

b. Planar V/C segregation (McCarthy 1989)

"In Rotuman, there is no evidence for morphological distinctions between vowels and consonants or templatic morphology, and little evidence for rigid constraints on canonical form. But there is the highly restricted (C)V syllable structure that could conceivably render the linear order of vowels and consonants redundant. Because vowels and consonants are unordered, they are free to give the appearance of reordering without an overt metathesis rule."

c. Prosodic Approach (McCarthy 1999)

The constraint that the main-stressed syllable is final in every Prosodic Word entails that stems in the incomplete phase end in a heavy syllable, and this leads to phonological processes such as metathesis, vowel deletion, diphthongization, etc. found in the incomplete phase. Metathesis occurs whenever the resulting vowel sequence rises in sonority.


œ = mid front rounded vowel
y = high front rounded vowel



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  • Besnier, Niko. 1987. An autosegmental approach to metathesis in Rotuman. Lingua 73: 201-223.
  • Biggs, Bruce. 1965. Direct and indirect inheritance in Rotuman. Lingua 14: 383-445.
  • Blevins, Juliette. 1994. The Bimoraic Foot in Rotuman Phonology and Morphology. Oceanic Linguistics 33 (2). 491-516.
  • Churchward, C. M. 1940. Rotuman Grammar and Dictionary. Sydney: Methodist Church of Australia.
  • Hale, Mark & Madelyn Kissock. 1998. The phonology-syntax interface in Rotuman. Proceedings of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association, UCLA, 1996 and 1997, ed. by Matthew Pearson. (UCLA Occasional Papers in Linguistics.) Los Angeles: Department of Linguistics, UCLA, to appear.
  • Haudricourt, A. G. 1958. La Phonologie des voyelles en rotumien (Oce!anie). Bulletin de la socit de linguistique de Paris 53:268-272.
  • McCarthy, John J. 1989. Linear Order in Phonology Representation. Linguistic Inquiry 20: 71-99.
  • McCarthy, John J. 1999. The Prosody of Phase in Rotuman. Natural Lanugage and Linguistic Theory 17. 
  • McCarthy, John, 1995. Extensions of Faithfulness: Rotuman Revisited. ms. UMass, Amherst.