Topic marking and the construction of narrative in Xibe
Xibe is a Tungus-Manchu language spoken in Xinjiang Uygur [Uighur] Autonomous Region in Northwestern China. In this paper we present a corpusbased study of the structural and discourse-functional behavior of the particle <i>da</i> in spoken Xibe. From a structural perspective, we observe that <i>da</i> may occur in four syntactic contexts, but is never obligatory. Turning to discourse function, we show that <i>da</i> functions as a “topic marker”, in the sense of Li and Thompson (1976). This basic discourse function is extended to other usages, including: (1) linking two foregrounded clauses in which the first is structurally dependent on the second, and (2) the elaboration of a canonical “narrative construction” that contributes crucially to a subjective sense of style. Part of what identifies speakers as particularly skilled in storytelling is the frequency and fluency of their use of this narrative construction.