Thursday, June 07, 2007

Flip-flopping on metathesis

The structure of Wikipedia creates an interesting argument. Instead of talking about the mistakes here on this blog should I just correct them over on the Wikipedia page? What if I'm not interested in making Wikipedia more accurate? But obviously I'm interested correcting information that the site puts out there. Why else am I about to correct it here? I'll let the insignificant wrangler address the question if he wishes. Let's get to linguistics.

On the page for metathesis the wikipedants have provided several transcriptions of supposedly metathesized forms. I'll comment on a 6 of the 11.

/ˈkælvəɹi/ for cavalry
This is a fair example of metathesis. It's interesting that the metathesis is not a simple ab>ba but an asymmetrical a-bc>bc-a. This is probably because of contamination by Calvary, the other name for Golgotha (Hill of the Skull).
/ˈkʌmftɚbl̩/ for comfortable
This is another good example. It may involve both metathesis and schwa deletion. Several possible steps in several possible orders would make for decent analyses. It introduces the question of of ɚ vs ɹ̩.
/ˈɪntɚˌdus/ for introduce
I'm not sure I've heard the [-tɚ-] syllable in this word. I'm not a fan of the rhoticized [ɚ] anyway. I prefer the analysis with a syllabic [ɹ̩], but that could still be a rule applied after metathesis has occurred. This would explain the common loss of [t] after a nasal coda of a stressed syllable (as in common pronunciations of 'plenty' 'splinter'...). But the surface representation I hear most often [inʧɹədus] undergoes affrication, not metathesis.
/ˈzɹeɪl/ for Israel
I've never heard this. So I can't comment.
/ˈpɝti/ for pretty
This might be metathesis or it might just be syllabification of the [ɹ̩].
/ˈvɛtʃtɪbl̩/ for vegetable
This is not metathesis. It's not even movement. This looks like metathesis if you overlook an analysis of regressive voice assimilation ʤ>ʧ /__[t] and analyze the [t] before the [ʃ] as metathesis of the ʃt cluster. But let's compare the order of the segments.

ˈv ɛ ʤ t ɪ b l̩ -- standard form
ˈv ɛ ʧ t ɪ b l̩ -- alternate form

Not metathesis.

One more observation (this gets overly pedantic). It's more a matter of convention. The back slashes are usually reserved for phonemic (or underlying) representations (UR). For phonetic (or surface) representations (SR) the symbols would take square brackets. Elsewhere in Wikipedia's tome of information these are called broad (UR) and narrow (SR) transcriptions. I've not seen the broad/narrow terminology before. But I'm just a beginner here.


The comment from Buffy highlights a question about the correct spelling of rhoticize. In fact according to the OED the only spelling is rhotacize. This is confusing since the adjective is rhotic and the noun is rhoticity. The present participle listed by the OED is "rhoticizing". I'm not going to turn this into another post. I'm just acknowledging that it's mostly stubbornness that keeps me from changing the spelling I chose. Though the OED's spelling of of the ppl a does give me some support.

I'll not accept blame for the ambiguity with erotic. I think Buffy is just too eager to talk about country matters anyway.


  1. Wikipedant. Nice.

    What I don't understand is what's so lascivious about this ɚ. In any case, I'm not a fan of it, either.

  2. I'll just address it here... quickly. Here's some of my base ideas on wikipedia: 1) agonism is productive, 2) information should be free, 3) people are generally good, sometimes.

    My problem often comes from English teachers who complain about wikipedia. Two complaints about their complaints: 1) instruct students that wikipedia is a place to start research. Then make sure you show them how to follow up and conduct deeper research (did anyone academic ever consider any encyclopedia reliable?); 2) you have 20 able-bodied researchers sitting in front of you every semester. While not all of them might produce quality text, I'm sure several could improve or at least fact-check a wikipedia page. Stop complaining and do something.


  3. Here's the issue I was wondering about. I go look at Wikipedia to see what it says and when I find that there's some questionable or even wrong information I decide to put a post up on my own page instead of changing it on Wikipedia -- where I'm "supposed" to make the emendation. That's why Wikipedia puts itself out there.

    I'm being stubbornly indifferent to the quality of their sight, while obviously not being indifferent about the information. Are there some new wiki-ethics at play here?

  4. A rhoticery league might be fun.

  5. I think wikipedia is built on the hacker code, the underlying code of the internet. The motto basically breaks down to one commandment: share, share, share.

    If we consider the web as the semantic web, growing into one powerful super computer in which everything is connected, then it probably doesn't matter where you put your information.

    Since this "semantic web" is probably a ways off, chances are no one interested in the subject is going to find your collective. In fact, I can almost assure you they won't.

    Traditional academic work has always been an isolated activity. Wikipedia suggests otherwise. It presents us with an entirely different academic identity. I think the major difficulty of this new identity is that it forces academics into the barnyard.

    Baa. Baa.

  6. Unless they google "metathesis" and "wikipedia"...


Thanks for reaching out.

You can also contact me at wishydig[at]gmail[d0t]com.