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In A Dictionary to Basic Japanese Grammar, it says under the conditional ば that this is the origin of the topic particle は but I haven't been able to find where this claim comes from. Does anyone know how the conditional came to be the topic particle?

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    I've heard it described the other way around - that conditional ば is from topic は. Topic は has been in Japanese as long as anyone can tell, and has cognates in Ryuukyuuan languages - so there's no reason to claim any etymology whatsoever for it, it's just been there.
    – Sjiveru
    Jun 2, 2017 at 22:41

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It's not that one is the origin of the other. Adverbial particle は, conjunction ば and sentence ender わ (as in 出るわ出るわ) share the same origin.

The reason why adverbial particle は came to denote the topic is probably because one needed something to tell boundary when it had been originally unmarked.

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  • > ... one needed something to tell boundary when it had been originally unmarked. A nice explanation!
    – mackygoo
    Jun 2, 2017 at 8:03
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    I very much doubt that explanation. Languages mostly don't work that way - you don't just 'add a thing to make a boundary', it has to come from some other preexisting thing that was reinterpreted and repurposed.
    – Sjiveru
    Jun 2, 2017 at 22:40
  • @Sjiveru I meant that a topic with emphatic は was reinterpreted as something with a topic marker.
    – user4092
    Jun 3, 2017 at 8:43

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