Topic Units in Planned Written Discourse

Bear, Jean M.
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The description of 'topic units' presented in this paper began as an attempt to describe paragraph structure. Those who write about paragraphs, however, seem to agree on only two things: a paragraph begins with an indentation, and it is composed of sentences. In the search for a different point of view, I have adopted the assumption that 'clauses', not 'sentences', are the basic unit for constructing texts. Thus the approach used in this paper was to ignore sentences and paragraphs and to consider only clauses as I looked for an answer to the question, "Is there any formal unit of written text in English beyond the sentence?" In answering the question I have applied notions about topic-comment relationships in single sentences to the analysis of the surface structure of longer segments of text. I will suggest that the surface structure of text is organized as a series of sets of clauses grouped into what is here called 'topic units' and that topic units have formal characteristics of their own.
written discourse, text structures, clauses, topic comment, paragraph structure, english
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