A Phonetic Analysis of Liquid Metathesis in Bulgarian

Brian E. Felt, Emory University

This paper investigates the phonetic manifestation of liquid metathesis in Bulgarian. Liquid metathesis in Bulgarian is a process in which a sequence of liquid consonant–vowel (LV) or vowel–liquid consonant (VL) metathesizes depending on the form of the word, e.g. definite versus indefinite, singular versus plural. The phonological rules posited for this process have numerous regular exceptions, as discussed in Bulgarian Phonology by Scatton (1975), and A Short Grammar of Contemporary Bulgarian by Ra Hauge (1999).

For example, the noun vrux peak displays liquid metathesis in the singular determinate and plural forms: vrux 'peak', vurxut 'the peak', vurxove 'peaks' [u here represents the schwa–like er goljamvowel in Bulgarian]. However, the adjective vruxen 'top' does not. Some similar forms, such as plux 'rat', do not undergo metathesis. Another example is a pair of word forms that differ only by their final consonant, pruv 'first' and prut 'pole'. The occurrence of metathesis in theses forms is unpredictable: pruv metathesizes while prut does not: pruv, purvi, but prut, pruti.

The data cited in the various analyses of liquid metathesis in Bulgarian are mainly gleaned from dictionaries and normative reference works. The data for this paper were gathered from two native speakers of Bulgarian, one male and one female, by recording their production of multiple tokens of twenty forms of nouns which display liquid metathesis. The data were analyzed using Praat, a phonetic analysis program, to determine the length and presence or absence of a vowel immediately before and/or after the liquid consonants [r] and [l] in each token word. The syllabic nature and articulation of the liquids [r] and [l] are central to the phonetic analysis of liquid metathesis in Bulgarian. The results of the analysis demonstrate that the phonetic realization of liquid metathesis in Bulgarian does not consistently reflect its orthographic representation.