Indefinite subjects in Mandarin Chinese

Xiaowen Nie, Feng Hsi Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Indefinite subjects in Mandarin Chinese are dis-preferred or restricted according to previous studies although they do exist in natural data. In this study we examine two issues: when they are used and why they are used. The first issue is best answered by looking at the information status of indefinite subjects. We adopt the framework of givenness and newness developed by Prince (1992) and revised by Birner’s (2004, 2006). We find that although indefinite subjects are new most of the time, most of them also carry some old information; the given-before-new principle is satisfied. For the second issue, we examine topic continuity of indefinite subjects in discourse. We find that they perform a discourse function different from that of the postverbal NPs in existential sentences. Most of the time their referents are non-persistent, and they are not discourse topics, unlike post-verbal NPs in existential sentences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-214
Number of pages34
JournalChinese Language and Discourse
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 4 2021


  • Indefinite
  • Information status
  • Subject
  • Topic continuity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Linguistics and Language


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