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What is a presupposition?



A presupposition is background belief, relating to an utterance, that

  • must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context
  • generally will remain a necessary assumption whether the utterance is placed in the form of an assertion, denial, or question, and
  • can generally be associated with a specific lexical item or grammatical feature (presupposition trigger) in the utterance.
Examples (English)
  • The utterance John regrets that he stopped doing linguistics before he left Cambridge has the following presuppositions:

    • There is someone uniquely identifiable to speaker and addressee as John.
    • John stopped doing linguistics before he left Cambridge.
    • John was doing linguistics before he left Cambridge.
    • John left Cambridge.
    • John had been at Cambridge.

    Levinson 1983 179–180

  • Kinds
      Here are some kinds of presuppositions:

    Crystal 1980 283


    Talmy 1985 79–80


    Caton 1981 97–98


    Levinson 1983 179–181, 204–205, 216–217

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    Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

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