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GENERAL: That part of an utterance about which something is said (the comment; see below). Usually, the topic is given in the discourse, the comment is new information about it. One test for determining the topic of a sentence A is by formulating a question Q to which A might be the answer. The topic should then be the information common to both Q and A. EXAMPLE:

Q: What about Mary?
A: John is taking care of her

In this context her ('Mary') is the topic of sentence A.
LIT. Reinhart, T. (1981)

SYNTAX: it is assumed that the topic may, or, in certain languages, must be placed at the beginning of the sentence. In some languages, the topic may also be provided with a specific morphological marking. EXAMPLE: consider the following data from Japanese:

(i) a  Taroo-wa kaeru-o koros-i-ta
       Taroo-TOP frog-OBJ killed
       'Taroo killed the frog'
    b  Kaeru-wa Taroo-ga koros-i-ta
       frog-TOP taroo-SUBJ killed
       'The frog Taroo killed'
In (i)a the subject Taroo is marked for TOPIC by wa; in (i)b Taroo is marked for SUBJECT by ga.

SEMANTICS: Topic-comment-distinction
LIT. Kuno, S. (1973)
Kuroda, S-Y. (1965)