Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





William McClure

Committee Members

Robert W. Fiengo

Virginia Valian

Martin Chodorow

Subject Categories



This dissertation investigates the contextual factors that affect the understanding and interpretation of one Japanese topicalized construction, NP1 wa NP2 da sentences, by native speakers of Japanese. The construction allows two possibilities in the relation between the NP1 and the NP2. When the two NPs are not syntactically connected (Type I), the sentence is generally vague, and a particular context is required to specify the meaning. When they are syntactically connected (Type II), they can refer to a semantically identical referent, and the sentence is naturally interpreted as an identity sentence. The aim of the study is to examine how context determines the meaning of Type I and Type II NP1 wa NP2 da sentences. These sentences were examined in a set of controlled experimental contexts by two kinds of test: Understandability and Interpretation.

Results showed that readers generally tried to connect the NP 1 wa NP2 da sentences to the context syntactically, semantically, or pragmatically when the sentences were presented in a context. Specifically, a syntactic and semantic relation with a particular verb in the preceding context sentence and the NP2 or information about a particular place presented by a locative frame enhanced the comprehension of Type I NP1 wa NP2 da sentences. When these contextual factors were presented consistently and appropriately, Type II NP1 wa NP2 da sentences could be interpreted as non-identity sentences. When such context was not available, the interpretations tended to depend on the sentence-internal conceptual connection between the NP1 and the NP2 in both types of NP1 wa NP2 da sentences.

These results suggest the reader's use of their linguistic and pragmatic knowledge differs according to the context and sentence type. The results also reveal a new understanding of the 'aboutness' relation, a notion that accounts for the non-syntactic connections between the topic and the predicate. Specifically, in the process of understanding NP1 wa NP2 da sentences, establishing an 'aboutness' relation refers to the process of finding an appropriate predicate in the context to create a proposition to connect the predicate (NP2) to the topic NP (NP1).


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