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The Linguistic Review

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Decomposing the aboutness condition for Chinese topic constructions

Jianhua Hu / Haihua Pan
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
Published Online: 2009-08-21 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tlir.2009.014


Traditionally, the relation between a topic and its comment in Chinese is characterized by an aboutness condition (Chao, A Grammar of Spoken Chinese, University of California Press, 1968; Chafe, Givenness, contrastiveness, definiteness, subjects, topics and point of view, Academic Press, 1976; Li and Thompson, Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar, University of California Press, 1981; Xu and Langendoen, Language 61: 1–27, 1985), though the precise nature of aboutness has never been made clear. In this article, we attempt to provide a more explicit characterization of the aboutness condition by decomposing it into two conditions, i.e., a licensing condition and an interpretation condition. The licensing condition stipulates that a topic is licensed if there is a variable in the comment and the set generated by this variable produces a non-empty set when intersecting with the set denoted by the topic. The interpretation condition requires that the topic forms a subject-predicate relation with an element inside the comment, with the topic being the predicate and the element in the comment the subject. It is shown that the two decomposed components of the aboutness condition have the advantage of unifying both gapped topic structures and the gapless ones within a single account.

About the article

Published Online: 2009-08-21

Published in Print: 2009-08-01

Citation Information: The Linguistic Review, ISSN (Online) 1613-3676, ISSN (Print) 0167-6318, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tlir.2009.014. Export Citation

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