Topic-prominent language

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A topic-prominent language is a language that organizes its syntax to emphasize the topic–comment structure of the sentence. The term is best known in American linguistics from Charles N. Li and Sandra Thompson, who distinguished topic-prominent languages, such as Korean and Japanese, from subject-prominent languages, such as English.

Contents

In Li and Thompson's (1976) view, topic-prominent languages have morphology or syntax that highlights the distinction between the topic and the comment (what is said about the topic). Topic–comment structure may be independent of the syntactic ordering of subject, verb and object.

Common features

Many topic-prominent languages share several syntactic features that have arisen because the languages have sentences that are structured around topics, rather than subjects and objects:

Mandarin
這個人 個子 很高。 这个人 个子 很高。
zhège rén gèzi hěn gāo
"This person (topic) height (subject) very tall."
 
Japanese
その ヤシは 葉っぱが 大きい。
sono yashi-wa happa-ga ookii
"That palm tree (topic) leaves (subject) are big."

The Lolo–Burmese language Lisu has been described as highly topic-prominent, [1] and Sara Rosen has demonstrated that "while every clause has an identifiable topic, it is often impossible to distinguish subject from direct object or agent from patient. There are no diagnostics that reliably identify subjects (or objects) in Lisu." [2] This ambiguity is demonstrated in the following example: [1]

làthyunyaánàkhù-a
peopletopicdogbite-declarative
a. "People, they bite dogs."
b. "People, dogs bite them."

Examples

Examples of topic-prominent languages include East Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Malay, Indonesian, Singaporean English and Malaysian English. Turkish, [3] [4] Hungarian, [5] Somali, and Amerindian tongues like the Siouan languages are also topic-prominent. Modern linguistic studies have shown that Brazilian Portuguese is a topic-prominent or topic- and subject-prominent language [6] [7] (see Brazilian Portuguese#Topic-prominent language). American Sign Language is also considered to be topic-prominent. [8]

Mandarin Chinese

張三已經見過了。Usual order*:已經見過張三了。
Zhāng Sānyǐjingjiàn-guòleyǐjingjiàn-guòZhāng Sānle
Zhang SanIalreadysee-EXPRESIalreadysee-EXPZhang SanRES
(As for) Zhang San, I've seen (him) already.I've already seen Zhang San.
*Remark: Mandarin Chinese sentences are predominantly SVO, but the language allows the object to be promoted to the topic of the sentence, resulting in an apparently OSV word order.

Japanese

魚は鯛がおいしい。
sakana-watai-gaoishi-i
fish-TOPred.snapper-NOMdelicious-NPST
When it comes to fish, red snapper is delicious. / Red snapper is a delicious fish.

Lakota

Miyeṡuŋkawaḱaŋ eyaowiċabluspeyelo.
be-the-one-1SGhorse DET.PLcatch-3PL.UND-1SG.ACT-catchDECL.male
(As for) me, some horses: I caught them. → It was me who caught some horses. (I caught some horses.)

Turkish

Seniyarınyinegöreceğim.
you-ACCtomorrowagainsee-FUT-1SG
You tomorrow again I'll see. → I'll see you again tomorrow.


See also

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References

  1. 1 2 Li, Charles N.; Thompson, Sandra A. (1976). "Subject and Topic: A New Typology of Language". In Charles N. Li (ed.). Subject and Topic. New York: Academic Press. pp. 457–489. ISBN   978-0-12-447350-8.
  2. Rosen, Sara Thomas (2007). "Structured Events, Structured Discourse". In Ramchand & Reiss (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Interfaces. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-924745-5.
  3. http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/langtyp.htm Typology of Language Grammars - San Jose State University
  4. http://www.turkofoni.org/files/a_typological_approach_to_sentence_structure_in_turkish-yilmaz_kili_arslan_trakya_uni.pdf A Typological Approach to Sentence Structure in Turkish - Yılmaz Kılıçaslan
  5. Kenesei, Istvan; Vago, Robert M.; Fenyvesi, Anna (2002). "1.12. Topic". Hungarian. Routledge. pp. 172–181. ISBN   978-1-134-97646-1.
  6. Pontes, E. (1987). O tópico no português do Brasil. Pontes Editores.
  7. "As Construções De Tópico No Português Do Brasil: Uma Análise Sintático-Discursiva Em Tempo Real". Filologia.org.br. Retrieved 2012-12-24.
  8. Schick, Brenda Sue (2006). Advances in the Sign Language Development of Deaf Children. Oxford University Press. p. 36. ISBN   0-19-518094-1 . Retrieved 2008-09-23.