Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 August 2022
While Chinese is widely considered a topic-prominent language and 'topic' may be a useful notion for describing some of the unique grammatical features of Chinese, natural text/speech data call for a re-examination of its nature and the ways in which it is manifested and deployed in discourse. My multiple genre-based investigation shows that at a ratio of 4 percent to all clauses, topic constructions are a very rare type of construction in Chinese discourse among all the possible types of syntactic constructions. As such, the status of topic constrictions in Chinese needs to be rethought. An examination of the use of topic constructions in spontaneous conversation shows a number of surprising patterns, including: (1) topic is best described as located at speaker turn transition places; (2) topical elements are subject to speaker negotiation, so they do not have to be definite, identifiable, or shared at the time of the utterance; and (3) topical elements function quite differently in interaction depending on whether they are self-initiated, self-repeated, or other-initiated.