Cross-linguistic encoding of sentence topics

Groot, C. de C.deGroot at UVA.NL
Sun Oct 14 10:49:23 UTC 2007

Dear Leon,
You may find some examples in Hungarian. The 'topic' (as you describe), may take the infinitive marker or the dative marker, as in
(1)    Mulat-ni Péter mulatott.
        enjoy-INF Peter enjoyed
       'Enjoy himself, Peter did.'
(2)   Vers-nek   vers-et írt.
       poem-DAT poem-ACC wrote
       'A poem, he wrote one.'
Casper de Groot (1981) 'On Theme in Functional Grammar; an application to some constructions in spoken Hungarian'. In: T. Hoekstra et al. eds. Perspectives on Functional Grammar, 75-88. Dordrecht: Foris.
A general reference
Simon C. Dik (1997) The Theory of Functional Grammar. Part 2: Complex and Derived Constructions. 379-407, Chapter 17, 'Extra-clausal constituents' Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 
Best wishes, Casper


Van: Discussion List for ALT namens Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm
Verzonden: zo 14-10-2007 10:07
Onderwerp: Cross-linguistic encoding of sentence topics

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 discussed.

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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