A topic marker is a grammatical particle found in the Japanese, Korean, and, to a limited extent, Classic Chinese languages used to mark the topic of a sentence. This often overlaps with the subject of the sentence, causing confusion with learners, as most other languages lack it. However, it differs from a subject in that it puts more emphasis on the item and can be used with words in other roles as well.
The topic marker is one of the many Japanese particles. It is written with the hiragana は, which is normally pronounced ha, but when used as a particle is pronounced wa. It is placed after whatever is to be marked as the topic. If what is to be the topic would have had が (ga), the subject marker, or を ((w)o), the direct object marker, as its particle, those are replaced by は. Other particles (for example: に, と, or で) stay, and は is placed after them.
The English phrase "as for" is often used to convey the connotation of は, though in many cases it sounds unnatural if used in English. It does, however, convey some senses of the particle, one of which is marking changing topics. If you were just talking about someone else, and you switched to yourself, you should say 私は (watashi wa), "as for me...". After that, it wouldn't be necessary to mention again that you were talking about yourself.
Here are some examples of its use: In the following example, "car" (車 kuruma) is the subject, and it is marked as the topic. Notice how the が that would normally be there to mark it as the subject has been replaced by は. The topic normally goes at the beginning of the clause.
|(The) car is new.|
In the next example, "now" (今 ima) is an adverb, and would normally have no particle, but it is marked as the topic for emphasis.
|now||[topic marker]||car||[subject marker]||new||is.|
|Now (the) car is new.|
Classic Chinese: 者 (Zhe)
The suffix zhe is similar to the Japanese wa, but is used very sporadically in Classic Chinese and used only when an author wants to emphasize the topic; otherwise zhe is usually omitted. This is different from Japanese, in which the topic marker is generally required.
Example: 陈胜者，阳城人也 (Chensheng zhe, yangcheng ren ye; this is a famous sentence from the book Records of the Grand Historian)
Literally: Chensheng is a Yangcheng person.
Translation: Chensheng is from Yangcheng originally.
Word for word explanation:
Chensheng: name of a 3rd-century B.C. rebel. Zhe: Topic marker. Yangcheng: name of a town. Ren: person. Ye: Is. (Ye means is, am, or are when used in conjunction with Zhe; it can mean other things when used independently.)
Note: The structure of this sentence is much more similar to the Japanese wa + desu structure than to modern Chinese, where topic markers have been completely lost and are not used anywhere.
- Topic-prominent language
- Topic (linguistics)
- Japanese grammar
- Japanese particles
- Wiktionary definition of は as a particle