Formal versus Functional Explanation for a Universal Theory of Syllable Structure: The Case of Vowel Epenthesis in Winnebago

Stuart Davis1,, Karen Baertsch2,
Author Information & Copyright
1Indiana University
2Southern Illinois University
Corresponding Author : Stuart Davis, Department of Linguistics, Indiana University 1021 E. 3rd Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA Phone: 1-812-855-6456; Email:, Karen Baertsch, Department of Linguistics, Faner Hall 3234, 1000 Faner Dr. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901, USA Phone: 1-618-536-3385; Email:

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Aug 2, 2012; Revised: Sep 4, 2012; Accepted: Sep 10, 2012

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


This paper first contrasts formal versus functional explanations for language processes. It suggests that the different types of explanation can be brought together to offer deeper understanding of language processes. It illustrates this by giving a detailed account of vowel epenthesis in the Native American language Winnebago that references a universal theory of syllable structure.

Keywords: Dorsey’s Law; formal explanation; functional explanation; split margin; sonority; syllable structure; Winnebago



Alderete, J. 1995. Winnebago Accent and Dorsey's Law. University of Massachusetts Occasional Papers 18, 21-51.


Baertsch, K. 2002. An Optimality Theoretic Approach to Syllable Structure: The Split Margin Hierarchy. Ph.D Dissertation. Indiana University.


Baertsch, K. & S. Davis. 2003. The Split Margin Approach to Syllable Structure. ZAS Papers in Linguistics 32, 1-14.


Baertsch, K. & S. Davis. 2009. Strength Relations between Consonants: A Syllable- Based OT Approach. In K. Nasukawa & P. Backley (eds.), Phonological Strength 293-324. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.


Blevins, J. 2004. Evolutionary Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Bybee, J. 2001. Phonology and Language Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Cairns, C. 1988. Phonotactics, Markedness, and Lexical Representation. Phonology 5, 209-236.


Campbell, L. 1986. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Chomsky, N. 1975. Reflections on Language. New York: Random House.


Chomsky, N. 1988. Language and Problems of Knowledge: The Managua Lectures. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Clements, G. 1990. The Role of the Sonority Cycle in Core Syllabification. In J. Kingston & M. Beckman (eds.), Papers in Laboratory Phonology I: Between the Grammar and Physics of Speech 283-333. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Davis, S. 1990. Italian Onset Structure and the Distribution of "il" and "lo". Linguistics 28, 43-55.


Davis, S. 2011. Quantity. In J. Goldsmith et al. (eds.), The Handbook of Phonological Theory 103-140. Oxford: Blackwell.


Davis, S. & K. Baertsch. 2005. The Diachronic Link between Onset Clusters and Codas. Berkeley Linguistics Society 31, 397-408.


Davis, S. & K. Baertsch. 2011. On the Relationship between Codas and Onset Clusters. In C. Cairns & E. Raimy (eds.), Handbook of the Syllable 71-97. Leiden: Brill.


Dorsey, J. 1885. On the Comparative Phonology of Four Siouan Languages. Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution [for 1883] 919-929. Washington DC: Government Printing Office.


Fleischhacker, H. 2002. Cluster-Dependent Epenthesis Asymmetries. UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics 7, 71-116.


Flemming, E. 2008. Asymmetries between Assimilation and Epenthesis. Paper Presented at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. Chicago, January 3-6.


Green, C. 2010. Prosodic Phonology in Bamana (Bambara): Syllable Complexity, Metrical Structure, and Tone. Ph.D Dissertation. Indiana University.


Green, T. 2003. Extrasyllabic Consonants and Onset Well- Formedness. In C. Fery & R. van de Vijver (eds.), The Syllable in Optimality Theory 238-253. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Hale, K. & J. White Eagle. 1980. A Preliminary Metrical Account of Winnebago Accent. International Journal of American Linguistics 46, 117-132.


Halle, M. & J-R. Vergnaud. 1987. An Essay on Stress. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Hayes, B. 1985. Iambic and Trochaic Rhythm in Stress Rules. Berkeley Linguistics Society 13, 429-446.


Hyde, B. 2011. The Iambic-Trochaic Law. In M. van Oostendorp et al. (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Phonology 1052-1077. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.


Kager, R. 1993. Alternatives to the Iambic-Trochaic Law. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 11, 381-432.


Miner, K. 1979. Dorsey's Law in Winnebago-Chiwere and Winnebago Accent. International Journal of American Linguistics 45, 25-33.


Miner, K. 1992. Winnebago Accent: The Rest of the Data. Indiana University Linguistics Club 25th Anniversary Volume 28-53. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Linguistics Club.


Miner, K. 1993. On Some Theoretical Implications of Winnebago Phonology. Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics 18, 111-130.


Morelli, F. 1999. The Phontactics and Phonology of Obstruent Clusters in Optimality Theory. Ph.D Dissertation. University of Maryland.


Newmeyer, F. 2003. Grammar Is Grammar and Usage Is Usage. Language 79, 682-707.


Orgun, C. 2001. English R-Insertion in Optimality Theory. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 19, 737-749.


Parker, S. 2002. Quantifying the Sonority Hierarchy. Ph.D Dissertation. University of Massachusetts.


Prince, A. & P. Smolensky. 2004. Optimality Theory: Constraint Interaction in Generative Grammar. Malden, MA: Blackwell.


Pulleyblank, D. 1988. Underspecification, the Feature Hierarchy, and Tiv Vowels. Phonology 5, 299-326.


Steriade, D. 1982. Greek Prosodies and the Nature of Syllabification. Ph.D Dissertation. MIT.


Steriade, D. 1999. Phonetics in Phonology: The Case of Laryngeal Neutralization. UCLA Working Papers 2, 25-146.


Steriade, D. 2008. The Phonology of Perceptibility Effects: The P-map and its Consequences for Constraint Organization. In K. Hanson & S. Inkelas (eds.), The Nature of the Word: Studies in Honor of Paul Kiparsky 151-179. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Strycharczuk, P. 2009. The Interaction of Dorsey's Law and Stress: A Non-Foot Based Approach. Paper Presented at CUNY Conference on the Foot. City University of New York, January 15-17.


Wright, R. 2004. A Review of Perceptual Cues and Cue Robustness. In B. Hayes et al. (eds.), Phonetically Based Phonology 34-57. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Zec, D. 1995. The Role of Moraic Structure in the Distribution of Segments within Syllables. In J. Durand & F. Katamba (eds.), Frontiers of Phonology 149-179. London: Longman.