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METATHESIS

Definition:

The rearrangement of two consonants in a syllable.

Comment:

Metathesis occurs when two consonants within a syllable are placed in a different order. They may simply switch place with another consonant or be transposed to a different position.

Examples:

ask /ɑsk/ /ɑks/             (switching)

star /stɑ/ → /sɑt/              (transposition)

 

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Metathesis involves either consonants switching position with an adjacent consonant in a cluster or transposition with a vowel. There are three main patterns.

Switching

C1C2 → C2C1    

This type of metathesis simply involves the reversal of the consonants within two-consonant clusters that typically appear in syllable-final position. For example, the word mask /mɑsk/ may be realized as /mɑks/. Here, the sound segments of the cluster /-sk/ at the end of the syllable are reversed. Further examples include:

 

best

/bɛst/

/bɛts/

tops

/tɒps/

/tɒsp/

desk

/dɛsk/

/dɛks/

 

This switching of consonants in clusters does not generally occur in syllable-initial position because reversing syllable-initial clusters (e.g. /bl-/, /sp-/, /kw-/) results in sound sequences that are not allowable under the phonological rules of English. For example, if the cluster /fr-/ is reversed this yields the cluster /rf-/. According to the rules of English phonology, an approximant /r/ cannot be immediately followed by a fricative /f/. This sequence is, therefore, ungrammatical.

C1VC2 → C2VC1

Switching can also occur in CVC sequences. Here, the first and last consonants are reversed. An example of this type of reordering is when the word tiger /taɪgə/ is realized as /gaɪtə/. Here the initial C1VC2 sequence /taɪg/ is reversed to produce the C2VC1 sequence /gaɪt/. Further examples include the following.

 

cup

/kʌp/

/pʌk/

pack

/pæk/

/kæp/

football

/fʊtbɔl/

/tʊfbɔl/

remember

/rəmɛmbə/

/mərɛmbə/

 

Transposition

C1C2V → C1VC2

This final type of metathesis involves the participation of a two-member consonant cluster but this time, instead of the consonants simply switching places, they are transposed to either side of a
vowel. In sum, it involves a re-sequencing of a two-consonant cluster and vowel combination (CCV) to produce a CVC syllable. With this process the order of the consonants typically remains unchanged, i.e. the first consonant in the cluster is the first consonant in the CVC syllable, and the second consonant in the cluster is the second consonant in the CVC syllable. An example is the word fly /flaɪ/ being realized as /faɪl/, where the second consonant of the initial cluster is placed after the nuclear vowel. Further examples include the following.

 

star

/stɑ/

/sɑt/

blue

/blu/

/bul/

play

/pl/

/pl/

 

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