Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton April 25, 2020

Topic and subject in Chinese and in the languages of Europe: Comparative remarks and implications for Chinese as a second/foreign language teaching

Anna Morbiato

Anna Morbiato is assistant professor of Chinese at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and Research Affiliate at the School of Languages and Cultures, The University of Sydney. She holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Sydney and in Asian and African studies from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. Her research interests include information and event structure, word order and the syntax-semantics-pragmatics interface, and the acquisition of Chinese as a foreign language.

EMAIL logo
, Giorgio Francesco Arcodia

Giorgio Francesco Arcodia is associate professor of Chinese at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. He authored various articles in journals and edited volumes on Sinitic languages. He obtained a PhD in Linguistics in 2008 from the University of Pavia, with a thesis on derivation in Mandarin Chinese. His research focuses on derivation, compounding, Chinese dialectology, and the typology of Sinitic languages.

and Bianca Basciano

Bianca Basciano obtained a PhD in Linguistics in 2010 from the University of Verona with a thesis entitled “Verbal compounding and causativity in Mandarin Chinese”. She is currently assistant professor of Chinese at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. Her research focuses on Chinese morphosyntax, especially compounding, resultatives, causative constructions and reduplication.

Abstract

Grammatical notions like that of ‘subject’ are widely used in second language teaching. However, while the grammatical subject is generally regarded as easily identifiable in the Indo-European languages of Europe, as e.g. English, French or Italian, and is a key element in determining word order, the application of this notion to Chinese has given rise to endless controversies. On the other hand, pragmatic-discourse considerations such as topichood, world knowledge, and context, and semantic notions such as agency, causation, and the roles of participants in the described event, appear to be more significant in Chinese as factors determining word order and interpretation of utterances. In this paper, we first provide an overview of the main differences concerning subjecthood, topichood and word order in English, Italian and Chinese, highlighting their impact on learner varieties of Chinese. We then summarise the state-of-the-art of research on subject and topic, with a focus on Chinese. Lastly, we discuss the implications of these theoretical issues for Chinese as a Second/Foreign Language teaching: to this end, we propose a critical overview of how the issue of topichood and subjecthood are treated in a sample of recent English-language, Italian-language and Chinese-language coursebooks and reference materials, and propose some recommendations for instructors.

摘要

像 “主语” 这样的句法概念在第二语言教学中广泛使用。句法主语在英语、法语、意大利语等印欧语言中是一种容易识别且影响词序的关键要素,而这一概念在汉语句法中的应用引起了无休止的争论。另一方面,汉语语法中,语篇因素——如话题、世界知识、语境和语义概念(如施事和使動,以及谓词所描述的事件或状态中参与者的角色)是决定词序与解释句意的主要因素。本文首先概述英语、意大利语和中文在主语、话题和词序方面的主要差异,并突出其对汉语学习者语言变体的影响。其次,我们总结专注于中文有关主语的最新研究。最后,我们讨论这些理论问题对汉语作为第二语言/外语教学的内涵:为此,我们论述我们在最近的英语、意大利语和中文教材以及参考资料中如何处理话题、主语进行的分析,并向教师提出一些建议。


Note

Simplified Chinese characters and the Pinyin romanisation system have been used throughout the article. The glosses follow the general guidelines of the Leipzig Glossing Rules. Additional glosses include: bei = Chinese bèi passive marker; cos = ‘change of state’; exh = exhortative; sfp = ‘sentence final particle’; sp = ‘structural particle’. List of abbreviations: C. = Chinese; E. = English; I. = Italian. In this paper, we use the term ‘Chinese’ to refer to Pŭtōnghuà, the standard language of the PRC. Chinese examples that are not quoted from the literature are drawn from corpora, such as the PKU corpus of Modern and Classical Chinese, Peking University, or the BCC BLCU corpus, Beijing Language and Culture University.


About the authors

Anna Morbiato

Anna Morbiato is assistant professor of Chinese at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and Research Affiliate at the School of Languages and Cultures, The University of Sydney. She holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Sydney and in Asian and African studies from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. Her research interests include information and event structure, word order and the syntax-semantics-pragmatics interface, and the acquisition of Chinese as a foreign language.

Giorgio Francesco Arcodia

Giorgio Francesco Arcodia is associate professor of Chinese at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. He authored various articles in journals and edited volumes on Sinitic languages. He obtained a PhD in Linguistics in 2008 from the University of Pavia, with a thesis on derivation in Mandarin Chinese. His research focuses on derivation, compounding, Chinese dialectology, and the typology of Sinitic languages.

Bianca Basciano

Bianca Basciano obtained a PhD in Linguistics in 2010 from the University of Verona with a thesis entitled “Verbal compounding and causativity in Mandarin Chinese”. She is currently assistant professor of Chinese at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. Her research focuses on Chinese morphosyntax, especially compounding, resultatives, causative constructions and reduplication.

Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 5th International Conference on Chinese as a Second Language Research (Hong Kong, 15–16 June, 2018). The authors would like to thank the participants in the discussion, as well as two anonymous reviewers, for their insightful comments. For academic purposes, Anna Morbiato is responsible for sections 1, 2, 2.1, 3, 3.1 and 3.2; Giorgio F. Arcodia is responsible for sections 2.2, 4 and 4.1; Bianca Basciano is responsible for sections 4.2, 4.3, 5 and 6.

References

Abbiati, Magda. 1990. La nozione di soggetto nella teoria grammaticale: il caso della lingua cinese moderna. Annali di Ca’ Foscari 29.3, 227–245.Search in Google Scholar

Abbiati, Magda. 1998. Grammatica di cinese moderno. Venezia: Cafoscarina.Search in Google Scholar

Abbiati, Magda & Ruoying Zhang. 2010. Dialogare in cinese 1. Corso di lingua colloquiale. Venezia: Cafoscarina.Search in Google Scholar

Abbiati, Magda & Ruoying Zhang. 2011. Dialogare in cinese 2. Corso di lingua colloquiale. Venezia: Cafoscarina.Search in Google Scholar

Badan, Linda & Francesca Del Gobbo. 2011. On the syntax of topic and focus in Chinese. In Paola Benincà & Nicola Munaro (eds.), Mapping the left periphery, 63–90. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199740376.003.0003Search in Google Scholar

Basciano, Bianca. 2010. Verbal compounding and causativity in Mandarin Chinese. PhD dissertation, University of Verona.Search in Google Scholar

Bickel, Balthasar. 2011. Grammatical relations typology. In Jae Jung Song (ed.), The Oxford handbook of linguistic typology, 399–444. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199281251.013.0020Search in Google Scholar

Bisang, Walter. 2006. Widening the perspective: Argumenthood and syntax in Chinese, Japanese and Tagalog. In Daniel Hole, André Meinunger & Werner Abraham (eds.), Datives and other cases: Between argument structure and event structure, 331–381. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.10.1075/slcs.75.15bisSearch in Google Scholar

Bulfoni, Clara. 2006. Corso di lingua cinese elementare. Milano: CUEM.Search in Google Scholar

Chafe, Wallace. 1976. Givenness, contrastiveness, definiteness, subjects, topics and point of view. In Charles Li (ed.), Subject and Topic, 25–55. New York: Academic Press.Search in Google Scholar

Chao, Yuen Ren. 1968. A grammar of spoken Chinese. Berkeley (CA): University of California Press.Search in Google Scholar

Chu, Chauncey. 1999. Hanyu Renzhi Gongneng Yufa. Taipei: Crane.Search in Google Scholar

Cinque, Guglielmo & Luigi Rizzi. 2008 The cartography of syntactic structures. CISCL Working Papers on Language and Cognition 2. 43–59.10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199544004.013.0003Search in Google Scholar

Comrie, Bernard. 1988. Topics, Grammaticalized Topics, and Subjects. Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 265–79.10.3765/bls.v14i0.1798Search in Google Scholar

Ding, Yongshou. 2010. A complete guide to teaching Chinese as a second language 对外汉语教学参考. Beijing: Beijing Language & Culture University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Dowty, David. 1991. Thematic proto-roles and argument selection. Language 67(3). 547–619.10.1353/lan.1991.0021Search in Google Scholar

Erteschik-Shir, Nomi. 2007. Information structure: the syntax-discourse interface. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Evans, Nicholas & Stephen C. Levinson. 2009. The myth of language universals: language diversity and its importance for cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32(5). 429–448; discussion 448–494.10.1017/S0140525X0999094XSearch in Google Scholar

Foley, William A. & Robert D. Van Valin. 1984. Functional syntax and universal grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Güldemann, Tom, Sabine Zerbian & Malte Zimmermann. 2015. Variation in information structure with special reference to Africa. Annual Review of Linguistics 1(1). 155–178.10.1146/annurev-linguist-030514-125134Search in Google Scholar

Halliday, Michael A. K. 1994. An introduction to functional grammar. London: Edward Arnold.Search in Google Scholar

He, Xiaoling 2005. On the Patient-Subject Construction in Chinese. PhD dissertation, University of Hong Kong.Search in Google Scholar

He, Xiaoling. 2019. Patient-subject constructions in Mandarin Chinese : Syntax, semantics, discourse. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.10.1075/scld.12Search in Google Scholar

Her, One-Soon. 1991. Topic as a grammatical function in Chinese. Lingua 84(1). 1–23.10.1016/0024-3841(91)90011-SSearch in Google Scholar

Ho, Yong. 1993. Aspects of discourse structure in Mandarin Chinese. Lewiston, Queenston, and Lampeter: Mellen University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Hockett, Charles F. 1958. A course in modern linguistics. Language Learning 8(3–4). 73–75.10.1111/j.1467-1770.1958.tb00870.xSearch in Google Scholar

James, Carl. 1998. Errors in language learning and use: Exploring error analysis. London/New York: Longman.Search in Google Scholar

Jiang, Wenying. 2009. Acquisition of word order in Chinese as a foreign language. Berlin-New York: Mouton de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110216196Search in Google Scholar

Jin, Honggang. 1994. Topic-prominence and subject-prominence in L2 acquisition: Evidence of English to Chinese typological transfer. Language Learning 44. 101–122.Search in Google Scholar

Ju, Min Kyong. 2000. Overpassivization errors by second language learners: The effect of conceptualizable agents in discourse. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 22. 85–111.10.1017/S0272263100001042Search in Google Scholar

Keenan, Edward L. 1976. Towards a universal definition of “subject”. In Charles N. Li (ed.), Subject and topic, 305–333. New York: Academic Press.Search in Google Scholar

Lambrecht, Knud. 1994. Information structure and sentence form: Topic, focus, and the mental representations of discourse referents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511620607Search in Google Scholar

LaPolla, Randy. 1990. Grammatical relations in Chinese: Synchronic and diachronic considerations. PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkley.Search in Google Scholar

LaPolla, Randy J. 1993. Arguments against ‘Subject’ and ‘Direct Object’ as viable concepts in Chinese. Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology 63(4). 759–813.Search in Google Scholar

LaPolla, Randy. 2015a. Notions of “Subject”. In Encyclopedia of Chinese Language and Linguistics, General Editor Rint Sybesma. Consulted online on 21 March 2020 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2210-7363_ecll_COM_00000298>.Search in Google Scholar

LaPolla, Randy. 2015b. Topic and Comment. In Encyclopedia of Chinese Language and Linguistics, General Editor Rint Sybesma. Consulted online on 21 March 2020 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2210-7363_ecll_COM_00000428>.Search in Google Scholar

Levin, Beth. 1993. English verb classes and alternations: A preliminary investigation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Search in Google Scholar

Levin, Beth & Malka Rappaport Hovav. 2005. Argument realization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511610479Search in Google Scholar

Li, Audrey Yen-Hui. 1990. Order and constituency in Mandarin Chinese. Dordrecht: Kluwer.10.1007/978-94-009-1898-6Search in Google Scholar

Li, Charles N. & Sandra A. Thompson. 1976. Subject and Topic: A New Typology of Language. In Charles N. Li (ed.), Subject and Topic, 457–89. New York: Academic Press.Search in Google Scholar

Li, Charles N. & Sandra A. Thompson. 1979. Third-person pronouns and zero-anaphora in Chinese discourse. In Talmy Givón (ed.), Syntax and semantics: Discourse and syntax, 311–335. New York: Academic Press.10.1163/9789004368897_014Search in Google Scholar

Li, Charles N. & Sandra A. Thompson. 1981. Mandarin Chinese. A functional reference grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.Search in Google Scholar

Li, Wendan. 2005. The topic chains in Chinese: A discourse analysis and application in language teaching. Munich: Lincom Europa.Search in Google Scholar

Li, Xiaoshi. 2014. Variation in subject pronominal expression in L2 Chinese. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 36(1). 39–68.10.1017/S0272263113000466Search in Google Scholar

Li, Xiaoshi, Xiaoqing Chen & Wen-Hsin Chen. 2012. Variation of subject pronominal expression in Mandarin Chinese. Sociolinguistic Studies 6(1). 91–119.10.1558/sols.v6i1.91Search in Google Scholar

Li, Xuemei. 2005a. Buongiorno Cina. Corso Comunicativo di Lingua Cinese. Volume I/1. Venezia: Cafoscarina.Search in Google Scholar

Li, Xuemei. 2005b. Buongiorno Cina. Corso Comunicativo di Lingua Cinese. Volume I/2. Venezia: Cafoscarina.Search in Google Scholar

Li, Xuemei. 2006a. Buongiorno Cina. Corso Comunicativo di Lingua Cinese. Volume II/1. Venezia: Cafoscarina.Search in Google Scholar

Li, Xuemei. 2006b. Buongiorno Cina. Corso Comunicativo di Lingua Cinese. Volume II/2. Venezia: Cafoscarina.Search in Google Scholar

Li, Xuemei. 2008. Buongiorno Cina. Corso Comunicativo di Lingua Cinese. Volume III. Venezia: Cafoscarina.Search in Google Scholar

Lin, Wan-hua. 2009. Preferred argument structure in Chinese: a comparison among conversations, narratives and written texts. In Yun Xiao (ed.), Proceedings of the 21st North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics (NACCL-21), vol. 2, 341–357. Smithfield, Rhode Island: Bryant University.Search in Google Scholar

Liu, Feng-hsi. 2015. Acquiring topic structures in Mandarin Chinese. Chinese as a Second Language Research 4(1). 1–21.10.1515/caslar-2015-0001Search in Google Scholar

Liu, Xun. 2004. New practical Chinese reader 新实用汉语课本. Beijing: Beijing Language & Culture University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Lu, Qinghe. 2006. 实用对外汉语教学语法. Beijing: Beijing Daxue Chubanshe.Search in Google Scholar

Lü, Wenhua. 2014. 对外汉语教学语法讲义. Beijing: Beijing Daxue Chubanshe.Search in Google Scholar

Lu, Yuan & Chuanren Ke. 2018. L2 Chinese grammar development. In Ke Chuanren (ed.), The Routledge handbook of Chinese second language acquisition, 151–216. London: Routledge.10.4324/9781315670706-8Search in Google Scholar

Ma, Zhen. 1991. 简明实用汉语语法. Beijing: Beijing Daxue Chubanshe.Search in Google Scholar

Masini, Federico, Tongbing Zhan, Hua Bai, Anna Di Toro & Dongmei Liang. 2010a. Il cinese per gli italiani 1. Milano: Hoepli.Search in Google Scholar

Masini, Federico, Tongbing Zhan, Hua Bai, Anna Di Toro & Dongmei Liang. 2010b. Il cinese per gli italiani 2. Milano: Hoepli.Search in Google Scholar

Masini, Federico, Tongbing Zhan, Hua Bai, Anna Di Toro & Dongmei Liang. 2016a. Parliamo cinese 1. Milano: Hoepli.Search in Google Scholar

Masini, Federico, Tongbing Zhan, Hua Bai, Anna Di Toro & Dongmei Liang. 2016b. Parliamo cinese 2. Milano: Hoepli.Search in Google Scholar

Masuoka, Takashi. 2017. Topic and subject. In Masayoshi Shibatani, Shigeru Miyagawa & Hisashi Noda (eds.), Handbook of Japanese Syntax, 97–122. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.10.1515/9781614516613-004Search in Google Scholar

Morbiato, Anna. 2015. Quello che i cinesi non dicono. In Magda Abbiati & Federico Greselin (eds.), Lingua Cinese: Variazioni sul Tema (Sinica Venetiana 2), 79–102. Venice: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari. doi:10.14277/6969-040-2/SV-2-4.Search in Google Scholar

Morbiato, Anna. 2017. Information encoding, Mandarin Chinese word order and CSLA: A cognitive-functional account. In Istvan Kecskes (ed.), Explorations into Chinese as a second language, 83–107. Berlin: Springer.10.1007/978-3-319-54027-6_4Search in Google Scholar

Morbiato, Anna. 2018a. How subjective is the subject? Annali Di Ca’ Foscari. Serie Orientale 54(1). 319–348.Search in Google Scholar

Morbiato, Anna 2018b. Word order and sentence structure in Mandarin Chinese: new perspectives. PhD Dissertation: Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and The University of Sydney.Search in Google Scholar

Morbiato, Anna. 2019. Conceptual word order principles and Mandarin Chinese grammar. In Chris Shei (ed.), Routledge handbook of Chinese discourse analysis, 85–101. London: Routledge.10.4324/9781315213705-6Search in Google Scholar

Morbiato, Anna. forthcoming. Cognitive and functional principles shaping Chinese linear order: an integrated analysis based on the containment schema. Special Issue in Cognitive Linguistic Studies.Search in Google Scholar

Nikolaeva, Irina. 2001. Secondary topic as a relation in information structure. Linguistics 39(1). 1–49.10.1515/ling.2001.006Search in Google Scholar

Paul, Waltraud. 2015. New perspectives on Chinese syntax. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110338775Search in Google Scholar

Polio, Charlene. 1995. Acquiring nothing? The use of zero pronouns by nonnative speakers of Chinese and the implications for the acquisition of nominal reference. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 17(3). 353–377.10.1017/S0272263100014248Search in Google Scholar

Romagnoli, Chiara & Jing Wang. 2016. Grammatica d’uso della lingua cinese. Milano: Hoepli.Search in Google Scholar

Ross, Claudia & Jing-Heng Sheng Ma. 2006. Modern Mandarin Chinese grammar: A practical guide. London: Routledge.10.4324/9780203799932Search in Google Scholar

Shan, Chuan-Kuo. 2006. Split Intransitivity in Chinese as a Second Language. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge.Search in Google Scholar

Shibatini, Masayoshi. 1991. Grammaticalization oftopic into subject. In Elizabeth Traugott & Bernd Heine (ed.), Approaches to Grammaticalization, 93–133. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/tsl.19.2.07shiSearch in Google Scholar

Shyu, Shu-ing. 2016. Information structure. In Chu-ren Huang & Dingxu Shi (eds.), A reference grammar of Chinese, 518–576. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139028462.018Search in Google Scholar

Siewierska, Anna. 1988. Word order rules. London: Croom Helm.Search in Google Scholar

Sornicola, Rosanna. 2006. Topic and comment. In Keith Brown, et al. (eds.), Encyclopedia of language & linguistics, 2nd edn., 766–774 Amsterdam: Elsevier.10.1016/B0-08-044854-2/00594-0Search in Google Scholar

Sparvoli, Carlotta. 2016. Fenomeni di inversione in italiano e cinese. In Clara Bulfoni (ed.), Linguistica cinese tendenze e prospettive, 113–142. Milan: Unicopli.Search in Google Scholar

Tao, Hongyin. 1996. Units in Mandarin conversation: Prosody, discourse, and grammar. Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.10.1075/sidag.5Search in Google Scholar

Tsao, Fengfu. 1990. Sentence and clause structure in Chinese: A functional perspective. Taipei, Taiwan: Student Book Co.Search in Google Scholar

Van Valin, Robert D. & Randy J. LaPolla. 1997. Syntax: Structure, meaning, and function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139166799Search in Google Scholar

Wu, Zhongwei. 2003a. Contemporary Chinese 当代中文 −1. Beijing: Sinolingua.Search in Google Scholar

Wu, Zhongwei. 2003b. Contemporary Chinese 当代中文 −2. Beijing: Sinolingua.Search in Google Scholar

Xiao, Yun. 2004. L2 acquisition of Chinese topic-prominent constructions. Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association 39(3). 65–84.Search in Google Scholar

Xie, Tianwei. 1992. An Examination of the Topic-prominence of Chinese Language Learners’ Interlanguage. PhD Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.Search in Google Scholar

Yang, Jizhou. 2006a. 汉语教程. 第一册 - 下. Beijing: Beijing Language & Culture University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Yang, Jizhou. 2006b. 汉语教程. 第二册 - 上. Beijing: Beijing Language & Culture University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Yip, Po-Ching & Don Rimmington. 2006. Chinese: An essential grammar (2nd Edition). London: Routledge.10.4324/9780203969793Search in Google Scholar

Yuan, Boping. 1995. Acquisition of base-generated topics by English-speaking learners of Chinese. Language Learning 45. 567–603.10.1111/j.1467-1770.1995.tb00455.xSearch in Google Scholar

Yuan, Boping. 1999. Acquiring the unaccusative/unergative distinction in a second language: Evidence from English-speaking learners of L2 Chinese. Linguistics 37. 275–296.10.1515/ling.37.2.275Search in Google Scholar

Zhang, Zhigong. 1952. 汉语语法常识. Shanghai: Xin Zhishi Chubanshe.Search in Google Scholar

Zhao, Yang. 2011. A tree in the wood: A review of research on L2 Chinese acquisition. Second Language Research 27(4). 59–572.10.1177/0267658311417836Search in Google Scholar

Zhu, Dexi. 1982. 语法讲义. Beijing: Commercial Press.Search in Google Scholar

Zimmermann, Malte & Caroline Féry (eds.). 2010. Information structure: Theoretical, typological, and experimental perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199570959.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2020-04-25
Published in Print: 2020-04-28

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 4.12.2022 from frontend.live.degruyter.dgbricks.com/document/doi/10.1515/caslar-2020-0002/html
Scroll Up Arrow