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The term topicalization (derived from the derived from the English term topic ) referred to in the linguistics an advance position of a set portion , which normally has the function of the phrase as Topik to identify, d. H. as information that is already known in the context. In the grammar of English, topicalization is a non-compulsory construction in which a part of the sentence is appended before the usual core sentence of the form SVO ("dislocation"). In German grammar , however, it is often customary to use the term topicalization in a purely grammatical sense as synonymous with preliminary occupation , i.e. for the obligatory prefixing of a part of a sentence before the finite verb in the declarative sentence, even if there is a different meaning function in individual cases.

Examples in German

Topicalization and apron staffing

The most normal sentence form in many languages ​​is one in which the subject has the function of a topic and for grammatical reasons it is at the beginning of the sentence anyway. This is also a normal sequence in the German second sentence , although the subject is not set to the position at the beginning of the sentence:

  (1)   [Hans] Subj goes [into the house].

If another part of the sentence, such as the prepositional phrase in the house in the example , is to receive a special function within the sentence, it is placed at the beginning of the sentence instead of the subject:

  (2)   [Into the house] [HANS] subj .

In the pronunciation, Hans can be emphasized in contrast, while the house remains unstressed and is thus marked as a topic; The sentence would then naturally be used as an answer to a question such as: “Who should go into the house?” (since the house is mentioned above, it is set as a topic for the answer sentence ). Pronounced with a different emphasis, however , the HAUS can also have the function of a contrast:

  (2)   [Into the HOUSE] [Hans] subj .

There is then no topical at the beginning of the sentence (even if, in a purely grammatical sense, the term “topicalization” of the prepositional phrase in the house is still used). However, the function of prepending in context would be e.g. B. rejecting the idea that Hans is going anywhere other than the house.

Special case: split topicalization

Normally, the topicalization (in the sense of pre-occupation) in German is a test of the status of a clause . In some cases (with indefinita ), however, it is possible that a phrase appears to be split up so that only part of it appears topicalized.

[ Viele schwarze Käfer ] krabbelten herum.
[ Schwarze Käfer ] krabbelten [ viele ] herum.

As expected, the second sentence has an interpretation in which the existence (or possibility) of black beetles is already assumed to be known (i.e. topical), the new information is then only that there are many of them. (This effect does not exist in the first sentence; the foreground is not considered a topic at all here, which is also possible, as said above).

Left shift

Another possibility to put a topic at the beginning of a sentence is to shift it to the left : Here the topic stands outside the entire main sentence (including the preceding section) and is resumed inside by a placeholder in the form of a pronoun , as in example (3):

  (3)   The book, I'll definitely read it again.

Topics can also be added by adding them to the right after the complete main clause, which contains a pronoun, and explaining the relation of the pronoun. Example (4) shows such a right shift :

  (4)   It's pretty strong, the coffee.

Topics can also be explicitly introduced as such using special formulations:

  (5)   As for the government, it is doing a bad job.

Topicalization in English

In English, units that have the function of a topic can be appended in front of the subject at the beginning of the sentence. In this position z. B. often adverbials that set the place or time as a framework for the event:

  (6)   During the holidays, I will write a few articles.

In a more restricted way, objects of the verb can also be dragged to the beginning of the sentence in the same way (the object is then missing from its base position, the topicalization can therefore be described as the movement of the object):

  (7)   That pizza, I won't eat.

In this respect the topicalization is similar to the preceding question words ("wh movement"): In both cases, e. B. the addition of a preposition can be moved forward so that the preposition remains at the end of the sentence (" preposition stranding ", a construction that is not possible in German):

  (8a)   Bill is living in that one house on the hill.
  (8b)   Which house is Bill living in -? (Formation of questions)
  (8c)   That one house on the hill, Bill is living in -. (Topicalization)

In contrast to questioning, topicalization does not trigger an inversion of the auxiliary verb in English . - Topicalization constructions in English are more freely possible than in German, where only the apron or a displacement construction are available. Multiple topicalization is possible in English, and topicalization can also appear in subordinate clauses after a conjunction, just as in main clauses. The following example combines both:

  (9a)   To that man, liberty we would never grant.
  (9b)   They told me that to that man, liberty they would never grant.


  • Hadumod Bußmann : Lexicon of Linguistics (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 452). 2nd, completely revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-520-45202-2 .
  • Knud Lambrecht: Dislocation . In: Martin Haspelmath et al. (Ed.): Language Typology and Language Universals: An International Handbook ( handbooks for language and communication studies . Vol. 20). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin a. New York 2001. Volume 2, pp. 1050-1078.

Individual evidence

  1. DUDEN. The grammar. 8th edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2009. p. 774; from there also the given example.
  2. Peter Culicover: On Distinguishing A 'Movements. In: Linguistic Inquiry , 27 (1996), 445-463. For an example, see p. 453