[b-greek] Re: Metathesis

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Thu Mar 14 2002 - 22:42:05 EST

At 9:51 PM -0500 3/14/02, Randy Leedy wrote:
>A colleague of mine (who teaches Hebrew) has gotten curious about
>metathesis as a linguistic phenomenon, and he is interested in
>compiling some examples of words (from a variety of languages) with
>variant forms where the difference is a re-ordering of letters. He
>gave as examples a Hebrew word for sheep (KeBeS / KeSeB) and a
>Caribbean English variant: sandals / slandas.
>I can't think of any Greek words that have variant forms involving
>reordering the letters, though, to be honest, it seems like there
>might be a word or two rattling around in the dark recesses of the
>brain where I can't get to it. I wouldn't be surprised to see
>something of this sort in the non-literary papyri; does anyone know of
>any Greek word(s) that are commonly written with such a variant
>spelling, whether in "street talk" or in more formal language?

The term is used for two common phenomena in Greek phonetic history:

(1) consonantal metathesis: very common is the phenomenon, when liquid or
nasal verbal (especially) roots become associated with consonantal Y and a
vowel, as
        BAN + yO/E --> BAINW/BAINEIS/BAINEI, KTL ("y" for consonantal Yod)
   The same phenomenon can also be seen in feminine adjectives where yA is
        to a liquid or nasal adjectival stem:
        MELAN + yA --> MELAINA (fem. of MELAS, MELAINA, MELAN, "black")

(2) vocalic metathesis: in Greek one sees this especially with certain
nouns that alternate short-vowel diphthongs with long-vowel + cognate
consonant before a vocalic or consonantal case-ending:
        BASILEU + S (nom. BASILEUS, dat. pl. BASILEUSI)
        BASILHf + OS/A (gen. BASILHfOS, acc. sg. BASILHfA--"f" = digamma
After loss of the digamma (still pronounced at the time of the Homeric
poems), the combinations in Attic BASILHOS and BASILHA suffered shift of
quantity such that HO became EW and HA became EA (with long alpha).

There are other types of consonantal and vocalic metathesis too; see Smyth,
##128, 402, 549, 559d, 56f.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months:: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad@ioa.com
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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