LING 3P95 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Nonfinite Verb, Infinitive, Nostril
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3. Topic Continuity
Topic continuity helps create and maintain linear coherence of discourse
Linear coherence: semantic connectedness between sequentially ordered propositions
How is topic continuity managed to produce coherent and cohesive discourse?
What is 'topic', and how is topic continuity defined and measured? (referential distance,
persistence, potential interference)
What factors determine topic continuity? (humanness, clause type, grammatical function)
What grammatical structures code topic continuity? (8 or 9 grammatical structures)
What is the relationship between degree of topic continuity and the various grammatical
What linguistic principle governs grammatical coding of topic continuity?
How do we quantify topic continuity in terms of various grammatical structures?
3.1 Topic and topic continuity
(1) Topic is that about which something is said in a sentence (sentence topic). Usually, it is a
participant/argument in a proposition.
Properties of topics:
Property 1: Topic is a non-discrete continuum or a multi-point scale, i.e. there could be more
than one topic in a clause, with some being more accessible/predictable than others.
(2) a. Neutral: We (topic) saw John yesterday. (comment – what is said about topic)
b. L-dislocation: John, we saw him yesterday. (topic is not the same as subject – John-topic;
we-subject) – topic leaves behind pronoun copy
c. R-dislocation: We saw him yesterday, John. (moves direction to the right; we is subject AND topic
and him/John is secondary topic)
d. Dative-shifting: John gave Mary the book. (John is primary topic and subject; mary is the
secondary topic and tertiary topic is the book)
Property 2: Some topics are more accessible/predictable than others, where more accessible is realized
with less linguistic material.
-Jim is encoded in subsequent discourse with less linguistic material (pronoun “he”)
(5) Jim1 insisted on helping Mary2 with the typing3. Although it4 was a simple task, he5 managed to make
it6 seem like a major ordeal. By the time he7 had finished three pages, Mary8 had finished the other
ten9 010 and was ready to leave.
-Jim is more likely to become topic in proceeding discourse – this makes him more predictable
Property 3: A more accessible topic is expressed with less linguistic material (ex shorter form); a less
accessible topic is coded with more linguistic material.
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