The Grammaticalisation Process of Mandarin Topic Markers

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The notion of topic has been the subject of much debate in the field of Information Structure (IS). Different types of topic markers are found in different languages like Mandarin (Li & Thompson, 1976; 1981), English (Rizzi 1997; Krifka, 2008), Japanese (Kuroda, 2005), etc. Topic, as distinct from subject and focus, is another important grammatical role in a sentence. It can be placed sentence-initially and requires that the speaker and listener share the common ground (CG) of what they are talking about in the discourse (Li, 2005: 15).

Li & Thompson’s (1976) paper can be regarded as one of the most important papers discussing the differences between topic and subject. Li & Thompson (1976) use seven criteria to distinguish the differences between subject and topic and finally come to the conclusion that the topic is a notion in discourse while the subject is a “sentence-internal” one. In other words, subjects and topics behave differently in the discourse strategy. As argued by Rizzi (1997) and Krifka (2008), topic and focus each has a syntactic place in the sentence. Based on the mutual common ground (CG) speakers and hearers have, topic is the information which both hearer and speaker already know and focus is the new information in the discourse (Gundel & Fretheim, 2004).

Mandarin Chinese can be regarded as the most standardised and official language spoken in China. It is widely accepted that Mandarin is a topic-prominent language (Li & Thompson, 1976: 460; Huang, 2009). In my previous preliminary study of topic markers in Han Dynasty compared to Old English, a robust tendency of topic marker usage is shown. However, no scholar has summarised or analysed all kinds of topic markers that appear in different periods of Mandarin Chinese development.

This thesis discusses different kinds of topic markers that exist in archaic Chinese and analyses the grammaticalisation process of topic markers by using a large-scale corpus as methodology. This thesis is targeting the following questions for answering: 1.The Linguistic Cycle of “zhe” ‘者’ in Archaic and Middle Chinese: There is no linguistic cycle of “zhe” in archaic Chinese. The nominaliser “zhe” and the topic marker “zhe” are used from the beginning of history, and the demonstrative “zhe” is appearing in a very short time and soon dies out. 2.The Grammaticalisation process of “ne” ‘呢’ as a topic marker: The usage of “ne” ‘呢’ has experienced a form unification and there is a functional grammaticalisation procedure of “ne” ‘呢’. 3.Why archaic Chinese only has base-generated topics: previous studies suggest that there is a co-existence of base-generated topics and movement topics. It is worthwhile exploring into the fundamental mechanisms that contribute to the fact that only base-generated topics exist in Chinese and to discuss the reasons for their existence. 4.The interaction of cliticisation and topicalisation in Archaic Chinese: The copula is a phonological clitic that must have a host to its left within the same intonational phrase. 5.Why do dedicated topic markers not exist in Mandarin Chinese? Chinese topic markers are not derived from locative markers, which can be omitted at any time.

This thesis is an attempt of researching the inner mechanisms of topic markers, including the relationship between topic markers and clitics, the formation of topic markers and so on. There is little research on the answered questions in section 5, thus suggestions are given in the last part of the dissertation to provide directions for further studies.

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ISO 690LI, Tian, 2023. The Grammaticalisation Process of Mandarin Topic Markers [Dissertation]. Konstanz: University of Konstanz
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@phdthesis{Li2023Gramm-70012,
  year={2023},
  title={The Grammaticalisation Process of Mandarin Topic Markers},
  author={Li, Tian},
  address={Konstanz},
  school={Universität Konstanz}
}
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Li &amp; Thompson’s (1976) paper can be regarded as one of the most important papers discussing the differences between topic and subject. Li &amp; Thompson (1976) use seven criteria to distinguish the differences between subject and topic and finally come to the conclusion that the topic is a notion in discourse while the subject is a “sentence-internal” one. In other words, subjects and topics behave differently in the discourse strategy. As argued by Rizzi (1997) and Krifka (2008), topic and focus each has a syntactic place in the sentence. Based on the mutual common ground (CG) speakers and hearers have, topic is the information which both hearer and speaker already know and focus is the new information in the discourse (Gundel &amp; Fretheim, 2004). 

Mandarin Chinese can be regarded as the most standardised and official language spoken in China. It is widely accepted that Mandarin is a topic-prominent language (Li &amp; Thompson, 1976: 460; Huang, 2009). In my previous preliminary study of topic markers in Han Dynasty compared to Old English, a robust tendency of topic marker usage is shown. However, no scholar has summarised or analysed all kinds of topic markers that appear in different periods of Mandarin Chinese development.

This thesis discusses different kinds of topic markers that exist in archaic Chinese and analyses the grammaticalisation process of topic markers by using a large-scale corpus as methodology. This thesis is targeting the following questions for answering:
1.The Linguistic Cycle of “zhe” ‘者’ in Archaic and Middle Chinese: There is no linguistic cycle of “zhe” in archaic Chinese. The nominaliser “zhe” and the topic marker “zhe” are used from the beginning of history, and the demonstrative “zhe” is appearing in a very short time and soon dies out. 
2.The Grammaticalisation process of “ne” ‘呢’ as a topic marker: The usage of “ne” ‘呢’ has experienced a form unification and there is a functional grammaticalisation procedure of “ne” ‘呢’.
3.Why archaic Chinese only has base-generated topics: previous studies suggest that there is a co-existence of base-generated topics and movement topics. It is worthwhile exploring into the fundamental mechanisms that contribute to the fact that only base-generated topics exist in Chinese and to discuss the reasons for their existence. 
4.The interaction of cliticisation and topicalisation in Archaic Chinese: The copula is a phonological clitic that must have a host to its left within the same intonational phrase.
5.Why do dedicated topic markers not exist in Mandarin Chinese? Chinese topic markers are not derived from locative markers, which can be omitted at any time.

This thesis is an attempt of researching the inner mechanisms of topic markers, including the relationship between topic markers and clitics, the formation of topic markers and so on. There is little research on the answered questions in section 5, thus suggestions are given in the last part of the dissertation to provide directions for further studies.</dcterms:abstract>
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November 14, 2023
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Konstanz, Univ., Diss., 2023
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