Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 81–112 | Cite as

Mismatch of topic between Japanese and Korean

  • EunHee Lee
  • Mitsuaki Shimojo


This paper presents a new analysis of Japanese and Korean topic markers, focusing on their mismatch in written narrative discourse. We argue against the common assumption that the Japanese topic marker wa and the Korean topic marker nun exhibit equivalent structural, semantic, and discourse-pragmatic properties by showing that they in fact involve different types of definiteness. In particular, we argue that the Korean topic marker encodes “episode-old” entities; it can only refer back to an entity that has been mentioned in the current episode, and an old entity is often re-introduced using the nominative marker ka across an episode boundary. On the other hand, the Japanese topic marker marks “hearer-old” entities; it often refers to an entity that is not explicitly mentioned but still inferred or assumed to be in the common ground. We present the evidence obtained from a comparison of Bible translations in Japanese and Korean and picture-elicited written narratives.


Topic marking Narrative discourse Japanese Korean Hearer-old/new entity  Episode-old/new entity 



We thank Gregory Carlson, James Huang, Lisa Matthewson, and the anonymous reviewers who gave us valuable comments on earlier versions of the paper. We also thank our Korean and Japanese informants for participating in the experiments, Douglas Roland for helping us with statistics, and Mark Nathan for editing the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University at BuffaloState University of New YorkBuffaloUSA

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