Cross-linguistic encoding of sentence topics

Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm tamm at LING.SU.SE
Sun Oct 14 08:07:10 UTC 2007

Dear colleagues,
I am forwarding a message from Leon Stassen who has had difficulties  
with posting it on the Lingtyp.
Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm


Dear colleagues,

I wonder if I can ask you for some help?  It so happens that I am  
interested in (the cross-linguistic encoding of) sentence topics,  
that is, the things that are before the comma in English sentences like

(1)     My first girlfriend,  her father never liked me
(2)     Amsterdam, I really don't see why people would want to go there
(3)     Marco van Basten, I don't think I've ever seen such an idiot

I would be grateful for any data from any language on such  
constructions, if they have them.  More specifically, I am looking  
for arguments that indicate that such sentence topics have clausal  
status. Prosodic data (such as the fact that there is a definite  
pause between them and the rest of the sentence) seem to suggest that  
they have, but I am very curious to hear if there are morphosyntactic  
arguments as well.  Are there languages in which such elements are  
really (parts of) a clause? Are there diachronic data that suggest  
that sentential topic markers are in fact  clausal items  
(conjunctions, remnants of existential verbs, or whatever)?   
Moreover, I would be very happy to get pointers as to relevant  
literature on these things. I have tried hard to do my homework first  
before asking this, but  as far as I can see now, the structural  
relation between sentence topics and the rest of the sentence (the  
sentence nucleus) does not seem to be a problem that is widely  

In order not to flood this forum, can I ask you to send your replies  
directly to me, at   l.stassen at ?
I will (try to) post a summary, if the received information warrants it.

I thank you in advance,

All the best,

Leon Stassen.

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