Contextual Conditions and Constraints in Chinese Dangling Topics
Syntax-Discourse Interface Analysis
This present study verifies the aboutness condition proposed by Chao, 1968; Chafe, 1976; Li and Thompson, 1981; Xu and Langendoen, 1985 and many others as a relation that holds between sentence-initial NPs and comment clauses of alleged gapless topic-comment constructions in Mandarin Chinese. Four often-cited types of dangling topics in Chinese are re-visited and the arguments from both the semantic (Pan and Hu 2002; 2008; 2009) and syntactic (Shi 2000; Huang and Ting 2006) views are examined. A critical scrutiny from contextual perspective, in particular Nomi Erteschik-Shir’s (2007) notions of topic, reveals that there exist dangling topics in Chinese where the sentence-initial NPs at issue are either contrastive or old topics which need not be syntactically or semantically licensed. The contextual contrast set and commentative conditions are proposed as the licensing conditions with constraints dictating that proper selection and relevance must be observed. At the end the study raises a hypothesis regarding language typology. It is proposed that discourse configurational languages exhibit phenomena of dangling NP topics which are properly licensed by the aboutness relation under which either one of the contextual conditions is satisfied.
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