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I often see って being used to mark a topic, such as in the sentence 新宿ってどこ? I'm aware that this is more colloquial compared to the topic marker は. Other than the formality aspect, are って and は completely interchangeable in meaning when used like this?

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Not a answer, but I think better than a answer. 朴序敬(2002)「主題提示としての「ッテ」の談話機能」 佐藤雄一(2011)「引用形式「って」における主題提示用法 –  Yang Muye Mar 27 at 18:28

2 Answers 2

は is fairly matter of fact. "Where is Shinjuku?"

って is a little more nuanced. Its like "Oh, now that you mention Shinjuku...where is it?" or "Speaking of Shinjuku, where is that?"

For all intents and purposes I gather the actual end-point meaning is the same but って is linking it more with something that has been previously said whilst は could just be bringing it up out of the blue. I feel that because it has this prior link it comes across as less forceful, just like such a situation in English.

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I feel like if someone were to ask me out of the blue, 新宿ってどこにある? would be the more common way –  ssb Mar 24 at 3:21
    
Reading this answer gives me the impression that って functions more like the subject particle が than the topic particle は - would that be correct though? –  hippietrail Mar 24 at 4:22
    
ssb; True, I was just thinking before that I should have put more in my answer. What I meant was that は is truly out of the blue and carries that nuance. What I was thinking I should have included was- Imagine you're sitting and watching TV with your friend. If you just suddenly say "Where is Shinjuku?" then that would be a bit weird. We tend not to do that in English. More likely would be- "Hey Joe" "Un?" "You know Shinjuku?" "Ah? Un?" "Where is it?" Which would be the nuance of って –  Tor Mar 24 at 4:28

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar has the following to say about this:

When って is attached to a noun, it is close in meaning to the topic marker は。When って is attached to a sentence as in

外国で暮らすって難しいね。

it is closer in meaning to 「..というのは、..」. However, it is more colloquial and emotive than は and というのは。In fact, if the predicate does not express the speaker's emotive judgement / evaluation, って cannot be used. For instance, the following is ungrammatical:

山口さんって先生です。

The following use is correct

山口さんって変な人ですね。

There are also a few more examples in that section which use the って construction with nouns:

アメリカ人ってフットボールが好きですね。

漢字っておもしろいですよ。

日本人ってよく写真を撮りますね。

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The OP is asking about the difference between は and って. You reference gives a bit more on usage which might be worth explaining (eg p509: って is emotive which I would say is not necessarily emphatic...) –  Tim Mar 24 at 0:12
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I replaced my answer with a quotation from Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar that clarifies the difference. –  Wenzel Jakob Mar 24 at 0:32
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According to this answer, wouldn't the sentence 新宿ってどこ? be ungrammatical? The predicate, Shinjuku, doesn't express any emotion. –  無色受想行識 Mar 26 at 2:03
    
It's a good question. I've added a more noun examples from that section of the dictionary, which suggest that the distinction is rather subtle. For instance, "日本人ってよく写真を撮りますね." doesn't sound very emotive to me by itself. But in the right context (e.g. when suddenly a big group of Japanese tourists starts taking pictures :)) and with the right intonation by the speaker, I guess that there can be enough emotion to justify the って. –  Wenzel Jakob Mar 27 at 10:48

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