metathesis defined?

Aaron E. Drews aaron at LING.ED.AC.UK
Thu Feb 3 18:00:41 UTC 2000

On Thu, 3 Feb 2000, Dennis R. Preston wrote:

}This is not even technically right if you consider that some rhotic dialcts
}(Scots) show clear evidence of metathesis.

That just might be the local water of life. :-)

However, in Scots, there is no coalescence of schwa+r, except maybe in a
few functional words like _her_.  In Scots, lax vowels don't become schwa
before /r/, at least in more conservative varieties. Plus, /r/ is more
consonantal than American English.  With two distinct sounds on the
surface, metathesis is acceptable by anybody's definition.  IMO,
metathesis in AmE has to occur at a 'deeper' level than just surface

(interesting: 'modern' is [mOdErn], but
'modren' is [mOdr at n] in Scots)

}>Strictly speaking, I suppose that Coye is technically right about the
}>relationship between syllabic [r] and [r] + schwa, even in words such as
}>"bird", at least in "surface" structure. It is doubtless slightly stretching
}>the term METATHESIS to cover this situation. However, it is such a small
}>reach that it I am comfortable with it--as are all the standard textbooks on
}>the history of English that I am familiar with--indeed they often give "bird"
}>as a garden-variety example of metathesis.
}>In a message dated 2/3/2000 8:07:26 AM, aaron at LING.ED.AC.UK writes:
}><< On Wed, 2 Feb 2000 Dfcoye at AOL.COM wrote:
}>}Also metathesis does not really apply when
}>}we're dealing with the hooked schwa in a word like 'performance' -
}>}'preformance' in rhotic speech-- the first vowel is not schwa plus /r/.
}>Isn't it?  Phonetically, it is clearly one sound, hence hooked schwa or
}>alternatively syllabic r.  But is the second syllable of 'performance'
}>also just one sound phonetically, a rhoticized O? At least it is for me,
}>and I suspect for many other rhotic north Americans.  Yet, there would be
}>no argument in transcribing the sequence as [Or] two sounds- or maybe even
}>O plus hooked schwa. So why couldn't the first syllable be schwa+r and
}>coalesce on the surface.  Or would you argue that hooked schwa is a single
}>sound throughout the whole of the phonology?  Positing 'er' as two sounds
}>somewhere certainly allows for the metathesis in the 'per/pre' prefixes,
}>as well as in 'modren' and 'southren'. >>

Aaron E. Drews                               The University of Edinburgh
aaron at                  Departments of English Language and       Theoretical & Applied  Linguistics


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