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だが is often attached to the subject/topic of a sentence as follows, with my supposed translation.

近くに住む叔父だが, 最近具合が悪いと聞いている.
'Speaking of my uncle who lives close-by, I've heard lately he's isn't doing fine.'

Does such だが give the subject a special meaning? Is the translation correct?

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Syntactically, it is the copula with conjunct , probably used in a cleft sentence with some omission. often connects contrasting clauses, but as with this case, it can just connect two clauses that do not contrast. The literal translation is

'On top of the fact that (it) is my uncle who lives close-by (that I am going to talk about), I've heard that he isn't doing fine lately.

A more natural translation may be close to yours:

'Speaking of my uncle who lives close-by, I've heard that he isn't doing fine lately.

The mistake you made is the scope of 最近 'lately'. It should not be "heard lately" but should be "not doing fine lately". Or, maybe you took that correctly, but your translation is ambiguous.

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You probably unintentionally dropped the “who lives close-by” part from the translations. – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 14 '12 at 11:58
Just to add, the same usage exists for other conjuncts similar to が: 来月フランスに行くけど、お土産には何がほしい? does not really contrast two clauses, but the first part just sets up the context. – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 14 '12 at 12:02

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