Topics in Action Sources of Definiteness of Topic Noun Phrases in Thai Interactive Discourse

Date of Award

Fall 12-2007

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Applied Linguistics

Committee Director

Joanne Scheibman

Committee Member

Janet M. Bing

Committee Member

Alfredo Urzua

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.L56 V35 2007


The notion of topic has been widely discussed in past literature; however, the use of naturally occurring data in these studies, especially in Thai, has been lacking. This study approaches topic from a functionalist standpoint. It uses definiteness, a feature of topics generally agreed upon by scholars, to investigate topic noun phrases (NPs) in the topic with a clausal comment constructionin naturally occurring data in Thai. The main objectives are to identify the sources of definiteness of topic NPs and demonstrate their functions. The data for this study was obtained from the Chulalongkorn University Linguistics Department corpus which partly consists of interactive conversations from a popular traffic radio show, Jor Sor 100, aired in Bangkok, Thailand. Seventy-seven topic NPs selected for this analysis appear in the form of [[NP] topic [NP subject - V / A predicate] comment], and they are marked with the particle /nîi/, a topic marker which derives from a demonstrative. The results show that topic NPs in this study are definite, but their sources of definiteness vary. The majority of these topics are definite through shared background knowledge. Many of these topic NPs are culturally-dependent and reflect the aboutness quality. Others appear as time phrases and reflect a frame setting quality. Additionally, there are tokens of topic NPs that are definite through prior mention. In these uses, speakers of Thai refer back to previously mentioned referents in the form of a topic NP, then more information is added or elaborated in the clausal comment. Hence, these topic NPs reflect the aboutness quality. This study indicates that topic NPs in one language, one construction, one type of register, and marked with one particle, have multiple functions. As a result, topic should not be treated as a unified category within a language or, more importantly, across languages. Topic is neither a single notion nor'has a single function.


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