Serafín wrote: ↑
22 Dec 2017 04:50
Mandarin Chinese is an example of a language that has a focus marker, namely 是 shi4 (placed before the focused constituent), accompanied by the particle 的 de later in the sentence.
Japanese has no explicit focus marker, but when something is not marked as a topic, it is frequently understood as focused, e.g.
Hiroki wa tabeta.
Hiroki TOP eat-PST
"Hiroki ate." (This is a thing he did)
Hiroki ga tabeta.
Hiroki NOM eat-PST
ate." (Hiroki is the one who ate)
gach wrote: ↑
22 Dec 2017 05:03
A key issue here is what should we understand "recognising topics as grammatical elements" to mean. I'm not sure that your statement can be extended to cover all languages, especially when the main strategies for topicalisation include word order or grammatical voices instead of explicit nominal topic marking.
I was specifically referencing topic-prominent languages, where there are explicit, unobtrusive, and frequent strategies for marking topics and separating them from the comment, so it was not meant to cover all languages.
However, I can think of some English sentences where the topical and focal elements aren't absolutely sequential, though there's no simple dedicated morphology for labelling either of them. Think for example the following question-answer pair,
How can I help you?
It's that car of yours, that you could drive off from blocking my way.
The most topical element in the answer is the subject you since it refers to participant established in the previous sentence. Both the cleft in front of it and the rest of the sentence following it contain new information that's not been invoked before, meaning that the topic is surrounded on both sides by more focal elements (the cleft containing the emphasised part of the focus).
I'm sorry, but this sentence is rather bizarre to me and I can't quite understand it. Indeed, "you" is old information, but (at least from the perspective of a topic-prominent language like Japanese), it is not the topic of that sentence; the topic is the car, (I'm talking about your car, here's information about it) and it was introduced at the beginning, as one would expect. I'm not sure about this example sentence though, so I may be misinterpreting you.
It's also possible to construct sentences that have topical elements surrounding focal ones by using afterthoughts,
This book is interesting.
It's interesting, this book.
In both of these cases the subject is the topic and the predicate the focus. The second sentence moves the lexical content of the subject into an afterthought while still retaining a pronominal dummy subject in the subject position. They refer to the same entity, this book, and are thus both topical. The result is a sentence where the focal part if surrounded by morphological elements corresponding to the topic. These examples may have their flaws if you dig deeper, but I think that they still demonstrate that requiring topics and foci to always be sequential is also too simplistic to pass as a universal rule.
In this sentence, both "it" and "this book" have the same referent, so strictly speaking, the comment "is interesting" is not nested in the topic; rather, it is surrounded by two independent references to the topic. When I said, "having the topic nested within the comment would not make much sense," I meant having it nested within a single reference. A better example of what I meant would be something like:
*Learning is fun to ski.
This sentence does not work because I have inserted the comment "is fun" in the middle of a single reference to the topic "learning to ski" splitting it apart confusingly. This is the problem with having a topic-prominent VSO word order but forcing the verb to appear first. The reverse of this sentence would occur, where the comment is split in half by the topic:
Broke John the vase.
Naturally, if we're not talking about a strongly topic-prominent language, and this is just a matter of fronting, then this sort of construction should be fine, I think.