The Integration Functions of Topic Chains in Chinese Discourse

Keywords: the co-referential topic, connection of clauses, unified unit, textual coherence, meronymy


The topic chain, one of the essential organization devices in Chinese discourse, is highlighted by the use of many co-referential zero forms. Although the topic chain has been realized to play an important role in organizing discourse, few attempts have been made to explore how the topic chain forms an integrated and meaningful unit and facilitates discourse organization, which are called the “integration functions” of the topic chain in this paper. This study, based on a comprehensive review of topic chain studies, re-examines the core characteristics of the topic chain. After this, the integration functions of the topic chain are analysed from internal and external levels. The topic chain itself can manage its internally different clauses to form a cohesive, meaningful and unified unit. At this stage, this paper clearly demonstrates why so much information within a topic chain is assembled into such a compact structure. At the discourse level, one topic chain can associate with other topic chains or non-chain constructions to establish textual coherence. Making use of zero anaphora, co-reference, cognitive orders and other non-morph-syntactic devices, the topic chain can combine different discourse units together to construct Chinese discourse. The study provides a systematic and well-developed account of the integration functions for the topic chain, which is significant for a deeper understanding of the nature of the topic chain and how discourse coherence is established in Chinese.


Download data is not yet available.


Chen, P. (2004). Hanyu shuangxiang mingciju yu huati chenshujiegou 汉语双向名词与话题-陈述结构 [Double NP constructions and topic-comment articulation in Chinese]. Zhongguo Yuwen 中国语文 [Studies of the Chinese Language], 6, 493-507.

Cheng, C-C. (1988). Tongxin benwei hanyu pianzhang yufa通信本位汉语篇章语法 [Communication-based Chinese discourse grammar]. Shijie Hanyu Jiaoxue世界汉语教学 [Chinese Teaching in the World], 1, 6-13.

Chu, C-C. (1998). A Discourse Grammar of Mandarin Chinese. New York: Peter Lang.

Cruse, A. D. (1986). Lexical Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dixon, R. M. W. (1972). The Dyirbal Language of North Queensland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Esser, J. (2009). Introduction to English Text-linguistics. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

Feng, S. (1997). Hanyu de Yunlü, Cifa yu Jufa 汉语的韵律、词法与句法 [Interactions between Morphology, Syntax and Prosody in Chinese] . Beijing: Peking University Press.

Givón, T. (1987). Beyond foreground and background. In R. Tomlin (Ed.), Coherence and Grounding in Discourse (pp. 173-188). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Halliday, M.A.K & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English. London: Longman.

Hasan, R. (1984). Coherence and cohesive harmony. In J. Flood (Ed.) Understanding Reading Comprehension (pp. 181-219). Delaware: International Reading Press.

Lassalle, E. & Denis, P. (2011). Leveraging different meronym discovery methods for bridging resolution in French. In I. Hendrickx, S., Devi, A., Branco & R., Mitkov (Eds.) Anaphora Processing and Applications (pp. 35-46). Berlin: Springer.

Lee, C-L. (2003). Zero Anaphora in Chinese. Taipei: Crane Publisher.

Li, C. N., & Thompson, S. A. (1976). Subject and topic: a new typology of language. In C. N, Li. (Ed.) Subject and Topic(pp. 457-61). New York: Academic Press.

Li, C. N., & Thompson, S. A. (1981). Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Li, I-C. (1985). Participant Anaphora in Mandarin Chinese. PhD dissertation, University of Florida.

Li, H. (1995). Topic Chain Structure in Chinese Conversations. PhD Dissertation, University of Minnesota.

Li, W. (2004). Topic chains in Chinese discourse. Discourse Processes, 37(1), 25-44.

LI, W. (2005). Topic Chains in Chinese: A Discourse Analysis and Applications in Language Teaching. Muenchen: Lincom Europa.

Longacre, R. E. (2007). Sentences as combinations of clauses. In T. Shopen (Ed.) Language Typology and Syntactic Description (2nd edition) Vol.2: Complex Structure (pp. 372-420). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pan, W. (2007). Hanyingyu Duibi Gangyao 汉英语对比纲要 [The Outline of Contrastive Studies between Chinese and English] . Beijing: Beijing Language and Culture University Press.

Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., & Svartvik, J. (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman.

Shi, D. (1989). Topic chain as a syntactic category in Chinese. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 17, 223-262.

Shi, D. (1992). The Nature of Topic Comment Constructions and Topic Chains. PhD dissertation, Southern California University.

Sun, K. (2018). Approaching the double-nominal construction in Mandarin Chinese through the semantic-cognitive interaction. Studia Linguistica, 72(3), 687-724.

Tai, H.Y. (1980). Toward a cognition-based functional grammar of Chinese. In H. Tai & H. Frank (Eds.), Functionalism and Chinese Grammar no.1(pp.187-226), Monograph Series of the Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association.

Thompson, A. S. (1987). “Subordination” and narrative event structure. In R. Tomlin (Ed.) Coherence and Grounding in Discourse (pp. 435-454). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Tao, L. (1996). Topic discontinuity and zero anaphora in Chinese discourse: cognitive strategies in discourse processing. In B. Fox (Ed.), Studies in Anaphora (pp. 487-513). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Tao, L. (2001). Switch reference and zero anaphora: emergent reference in discourse processing. In A. Cienki, B. Luka & M. Smith (Eds.), Conceptual and Discourse Factors in Linguistic Structure (pp. 253-269). Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Tsao, F-F. (1979). A Functional Study of Topic in Chinese: The First Step Towards Discourse Analysis. Taipei: Student Book Co.

Tsao, F-F. (1990). Sentence and Clause Structure in Chinese: a Functional Perspective. Taipei: Student Book Co.

Winston, M.E., Chaffin. R. & Herrman, D. 1987. A taxonomy of part-whole relation. Cognitive Science, 11(4), 417-444.

You, Y-L. 1998. Interpreting Chinese Zero Anaphora Within Topic Continuity. PhD dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

How to Cite
SUNK. (2019). The Integration Functions of Topic Chains in Chinese Discourse. Acta Linguistica Asiatica, 9(1), 29-57.
Research Articles