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Re: Grammatical metathesis

From:Roger Mills <rfmilly@...>
Date:Sunday, August 8, 2004, 22:21
Trebor Jung wrote:

> I know some conlangs like Mark Rosenfelder's Kebreni use grammatical > metathesis. Do any natlangs? >
At least two that I know of, but I don't know the details. (1) Rotuman (Oceania, grammar in Engl. by either Churchward or Milner) and (2) Atoni (~Dawan/Timorese) of Timor, Indonesia (the one grammar available, in Dutch, doesn't discuss metathesis despite countless examples in the text, which suggests that the author, like me, was at a loss to explain when and why it occurred...). As I recall, the Rotuman grammar uses "Construct case" as one use of metathesis there. If you can find the journal "Lingua" in a good library, there is a paper on Rotuman in Vol. 14 or 15 (both were devoted to SE Asia/Pacific studies). I don't know where my copy is....:-(((( Typical examples in Atoni: teon 'three', tenu? 'third' note that the proto-form is *telu usi 'ancestor' neno 'day, sun' : uis neno 'the (native) Sky-god, the Christian God' hiut 'seven' < *pitu aop 'pregnant' : na/apus 'made (X) pregnant' In some cases, met. in Atoni appears to be motivated by considerations of sentence rhythm/phonological grouping, with a stylistic preference for sequences of ...VCCV..., (even though the underlying/historical structure is CVCV)-- according to a recent paper. Perhaps variants of this sort are seen in the citation of both plain and metathesized forms-- e.g. simo, siom 'receive'. Both in Rotuman and Atoni, the procedure seems to involve metathesis of C1-V1-C2-V2 > C1-V1-V2-C2. In Atoni, if V1 is a low vowel, a +high V2 is lowered (as in tenu/teon); in Rotuman, IIRC, it goes even further, with V1-V2 often coalescing into another vowel altogether, with the result that the inventory of apparently phonemic vowels is very large, including front rounded vowels, low /&/ and /O/ etc-- completely unexpected in a language that is generally held to belong in the Fiji-Polynesian subgroup, where only */a e i o u/ are reconstructed. It's a thoroughly weird phenomenon, and although both languages are Austronesian, they are so widely separated in linguistic time and space that it has to be viewed as an independent development in both cases. Other languages in the general Timor area also use metathesis, but there seems to be a valid historical explanation-- rules of epenthesis (adding an echo-vowel to preserve original final C) and syncope (deletion of the old V2), i.e. from *(k)ulit 'skin' you derive **úlit-i then úl0t-i, so that forms like ulti and ulit both occur (in different environments) in the modern languages. Linguists with actual experience with these languages seem to feel that _synchronically_ metathesis is a better explanation for what's going on. But still, it seems to have an entirely different origin than what's seen in Atoni.


Roger Mills <rfmilly@...>