Both Japanese and Korean are "topic-comment" languages and both have an explicit topic particle.

(I believe Chinese might be an example of a topic-comment language without a topic particle but I may be wrong.)

Which other languages have topic particles? Any well-known languages?


4 Answers 4


They're not particularly well-known, but some modern Mayan languages have topic particles. (Others have a more Chinese-like system, with the topic appearing at the front of the sentence but without a special particle to mark it.)

A Google Scholar search for the phrase "topic particle" turns up a good number of hits on other languages. Malagasy gets a bunch of mentions; it's still not exactly well known, but it's a national language with (according to Wikipedia) around 20 million speakers.

  • Topic-marking is common in Austronesian languages, but not necessarily via topic particles. Oct 31, 2011 at 22:42
  • Well I've at least met Mayan speakers and one Malagasy speaker. But which Mayan languages? The most accessible for me is Tzutujil of Guatemala since I have books on it in storage and have visited the area a few times. Nov 1, 2011 at 5:34
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    Yes Tzutujil actually has two topic particles! k'aa(r) and k'ii(r). Interestingly it also has a definite article ja. As for Malagasy, its topic particle is dia. Nov 1, 2011 at 10:30

Aymara and Quechua have both topic and focus markers. There's a paper on the pragmatic suffixes in Aymara with a detailed explanation and many examples:

Homola, Petr, and Matt Coler. 2013. “Pragmatic Structures in Aymara.” In Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Dependency Linguistics, edited by Eva Hajičová, Kim Gerdes, and Leo Wanner, 98–107. Prague: MATFYZPRESS.

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    Interesting! (+1) Here, too, some examples and details on authors, issue and pages of the article would also be highly appreciated :)
    – robert
    Sep 9, 2013 at 21:21

I just now discovered that Wikipedia has an article "Topic marker".

While that article currently makes no mention of Mayan or Austronesian languages, it devotes an entire section to Classical Chinese.

The suffix 者 zhe is similar to the Japanese は wa, but is used very sporadically in Classic Chinese and used only when an author wants to emphasize the topic; otherwise zhe is usually omitted. This is different from Japanese, in which the topic marker is generally required.


In one paper, Hirano analyzes Tagalog "ay" as being a topic marker. It's traditionally treated as an inversion marker. If that is true, there are a few more Philippine languages (Sambalic languages, Aklanon, and some Cordilleran languages) with such topic markers.

Bashiic, a group of Austronesian languages in Northern Philippines, are analyzed as having topic particle. In Itbayaten, this is "o". In Yami, its either "o" or "am".

  • Now I need to read up on "inversion markers" - thanks (-: Dec 20, 2012 at 4:53
  • Hirano's analysis is wrong. Ay in Tagalog is solely used for sentence inversion. Consider "Makulit ang bata" vs "Ang bata ay makulit". The former is not using ay, but it still has a topic (bata). Both sentences have the same meaning: "The child is naughty". Actually, topic markers in Tagalog/Filipino, which is therefore sometimes referred to as a trigger language, are affixed to the verb root, whenever the sentence contains a verb. When there is no verb, it doesn't need a topic marker.
    – Bart
    Feb 10, 2016 at 22:32
  • @Bart: I think the ang-marked NP is not a topic, but a pivot cross-linguistically. Hirano's definition of a topic is like that of Nagaya. Feb 11, 2016 at 4:58

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