Topic, Comment & Contrast


Topic – the main centre of attention in a sentence

Comment – the element of sentence that says something about the topic

Often (but not always) given information is the topic and the new information represents the comment

e.g. Speaking of Hiyala, she won the contest.
As for Hiyala, she won the contest.

In certain cases, the new information can be the topic as well

e.g. Hiyala won the contest.
As for her boyfriend, he came last.

Similarly, given information can also be a comment

e.g. Alifulhu didn’t do anything the fanditha man asked.

As for Hiyala, she did everything he asked.

Therefore, the given/new information contrast is different from the topic/comment contrast

It is difficult to define the topic, as it is not necessary for the topic to be a property of the sentence -  it may be a property of the discourse context

e.g. Watch out!
(uttered to draw a pedestrian’s attention to speeding motorbike)

In English, marking the subject of a sentence is much more important than marking the topic of the sentence – in fact, the only construction that unequivocally marks topics in English is the relatively rare ‘as for ‘ construction

e.g. As for me, I’ve had enough of this.

Marking topic is considerably more important in languages such as Japanese and Korean – which have words whose only function is to mark the topic noun phrase
Contrastive noun phrase – a noun phrase that is marked as being in opposition to another noun phrase in the same discourse

e.g. Thakuru: Did Hiyala prepare the curry?
Alifulhu: No, Goma did.

Contrast is also marked when narrowing down a choice from several candidates to one – where the noun phrase that refers to the chosen candidate is marked contrastively

e.g. Of all the students in the class, only Hiyala knew the meaning of the word.

Simple test for contrast – check if the noun phrase can be followed by rather than

e.g. Thakuru: Did Hiyala prepare the curry?
Alifulhu: No, Goma, rather than Hiyala, prepared the curry.

A single sentence may have several contrastive noun phrases

e.g. Thakuru: Did Hiyala prepare the curry?
Alifulhu: Yes, Hiyala prepared the curry, but Goma prepared a whole meal on her own.

The entity with which a noun phrase is contrasted is sometimes understood from the discourse and/or nonlinguistic contexts
e.g. Hiyala wants to have a lot of children.
(If this was a part of a conversation about how the interlocutors do not want to have too many children

In English, the most common way in which contrastive noun phrase is marked is by pronouncing the contrastive noun phrase with strong stress

e.g. Alifulhu may be good-looking, but Thakuru is richer.

About the author

Add comment

By azu