In the “shirts I would wear if the irony wouldn’t be lost on most people” category:


This post was prompted by my father, who rants about people saying aks instead of ask, and then turns around and says chipolte instead of chipotle.

Thinking about how many English speakers I’ve heard saying chipolte [tʃɪpoʊlteɪ] rather than [tʃɪpoʊtleɪ], I have to wonder what prompted this. I’d assume that the original Nahuatl word has the lateral affricate [], which was unpacked to [tl] in Spanish before being borrowed into English. But then what triggered the metathesis? Since [tl] is a perfectly acceptable sequence in English (provided there’s a syllable break between them), why have so many English speakers metathesized to [lt] here? Is metathesis simply becoming more common in American English? I supppose I’d need to know whether people are learning this as [tʃɪpoʊtleɪ] and then metathesizing or learning it as [tʃɪpoʊlteɪ] to being with. Hm…


5 thoughts on “Metathesis

  1. Carsten Boll June 5, 2007 / 1:55 pm

    Chaucer used it. Your father must be a very modern young rebel to use ‘asken’ and not ‘axen’.

    “I axe, why the fyfte man Was nought housband to the Samaritan?” (Wife’s Prologue 1386).

  2. tulugaq June 5, 2007 / 2:07 pm

    Thanks for the Chaucer quote. I knew [ks] in this verb was attested in earlier English but didn’t know specific sources. I’ve told him before that this metathesis is nothing new – and a normal, albeit rare type of sound change – but it doesn’t stop the ranting. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I guess.

  3. Claire June 7, 2007 / 4:07 am

    Departmental T-shirt, here we come!

  4. Lameen June 23, 2007 / 3:17 am

    -tl- is much more acceptable in English at morpheme breaks than within morphemes. Your dad would probably have no trouble with it if it were a -ly adverb – say, “remote-ly” – or a compound noun (say, “salt-lick” or “cat-lover”) but “tl” practically doesn’t occur in monomorphemic words in English. (“Battle”, “cattle”, etc. don’t count – the l is syllabic.) Government Phonology has a fairly nice account of why not.

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