Case in a Topic-Prominent Language

Akio Ogawa

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780199206476
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Case in a Topic-Prominent Language

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Language Families



Discussions about topic-prominent language verus subject-prominent language are old but still of current interest. According to the now classic work of Li and Thompson (1976), topic-prominent languages possess the following characteristics: the topic is coded on the surface, that is morphologically and/or syntactically; passive constructions either do not or only marginally exist or carry a special meaning; there are no dummy or empty subjects; double subject constructions are available; it is not the subject but the topic that controls coreferential constituent deletion; verb-final languages tend to be topic-prominent; there are no constraints on what kind of constituent may be the topic; and topic-comment sentences are basic. The traditional grammar of Japanese distinguishes between two types of postpositional particles: kaku-joshi (case particles) on the one hand and kakari-joshi (relating/charging particles) on the other hand. Japanese reveals a relatively free word order, while maintaining a rigid verb-final position. This article sketches synchronic and diachronic case-drop phenomena, and exemplifies some other typologically related as well as unrelated languages for their functional parallelism.

Keywords: Japanese; case; topic-prominent language; passive constructions; double subject constructions; postpositional particles; kaku-joshi; kakari-joshi; word order

Article.  2910 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Language Families

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