Abstract: "The evolution of metathesis"
by Juliette Blevins and Andrew Garrett
In Bruce Hayes, Robert Kirchner, and Donca Steriade, eds., Phonetically Based Phonology, Cambridge University Press (2004)
In this chapter, extending earlier work on consonant-vowel metathesis (Blevins & Garrett 1998), we present a comprehensive and restrictive typology of regular metathesis in the world's languages. We identify four main types of metathesis (which we call perceptual metathesis, compensatory metathesis, coarticulatory metathesis, and auditory metathesis), we describe their salient characteristics, and we propose diachronic phonetic pathways by which they evolve. Based on our analysis we argue that reinterpretations of the ambiguities in real speech are the main force driving sound change; in particular, the majority of attested regular historical metatheses in the world's languages can be explained as the result of phonetically natural sound changes in which coarticulation leads to a segment or feature being perceived in some nonhistorical position. This approach suggests, more generally, that phonetics determines emergent sound patterns and that phonology is phonetically driven in the diachronic dimension.
Keywords: metathesis, sound change
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