Date of Original Version



Conference Proceeding

Abstract or Description

The functionalist approach to syntactic structure (Bates & MacWhinney, 1980; MacWhinney, 1977; Rommetveit, 1974) assigns a central role to the topic-comment distinction in both production and comprehension. According to the functionalist approach, the speaker's role in communication involves him in a process of point-making (MacWhinney, 1980). In this process, the speaker first informs the listener that there is some topic he wants to talk about. This topic must be specified in sufficient detail so that it may be uniquely identified by the listener. Having selected and specified the topic, the speaker then proceeds to make some point about the topic. In most cases, the point that he makes contains some new information that then functions as a comment about the topic. Thus the various activities of topic-selection, topic-specification, comment-selection, and comment-specification can be viewed as pieces of a single unified process which has as its goal the making of points.


In: The Proceedings of the First International Congress of the Study of Child Language, D. Ingram, F. Peng, and P. Dale (Eds.), University Press of America, 1980.