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What is a presupposition trigger?

 

Definition
 

A presupposition trigger is a construction or item that signals the existence of a presupposition in an utterance.

Examples (English)
 

Both positive and negative forms are presented, showing that the presuppositions are constant under negation:

 
  • Definite descriptions

    In John saw/didn't see the man with two heads, the definite description the man with two heads triggers the presupposition "There exists a man with two heads." (The unbelievability of the presupposition is what makes the positive utterance unbelievable and the negative one odd.)

  • Factive verbs

    In John realized/didn't realize that he was in debt, both realize and didn't realize that trigger the presupposition "John was in debt."

    Other factives are

    • (it) be odd that
    • be sorry/proud/indifferent/glad/sad that
    • know that, and
    • regret that.
  • Implicative verbs

    In John managed/didn't manage to open the door, both managed/didn't manage to trigger the presupposition "tried to," as in "John tried to open the door."

    Other implicative verbs are

    • avoided (X-ing), which presupposes "was expected to"
    • forgot to, which presupposes "ought to have"
    • happened to, which presupposes "didn’t plan/intend to," and
    • intended to.
  • Change of state verbs

    In Kissinger continued/didn’t continue to rule the world, both continued/didn’t continue to trigger the presupposition "had been," as in "Kissinger had been ruling the world."

    Other change of state verbs are

    • arrive
    • begin
    • come
    • enter
    • go
    • leave
    • stop, and
    • take (X from Y), which presupposes "X was at/in/with Y."
  • Expressions of repetition

    In Carter returned/didn’t return to power, both returned/didn’t return trigger the presupposition "Carter held power before."

    Other such expressions are

    • again
    • another time
    • anymore
    • come back
    • repeat, and
    • restore.
  • Expressions of temporal relations

    In while Chomsky was revolutionizing linguistics, the rest of social science was/wasn’t asleep, the clause introduced by while triggers the presupposition "Chomsky was revolutionizing linguistics."

    Other such conjunctions triggering presuppositions are

    • after
    • as
    • before
    • during
    • since, and
    • whenever.
  • Cleft sentences

    • In it was/wasn’t Henry that kissed Rosie, the cleft structure triggers the presupposition "someone kissed Rosie."
    • The pseudocleft structure in what John lost was his wallet triggers the presupposition "John lost something."
  • Stressed constituents

    In John did/didn’t compete in the OLYMPICS, the stressed constituent triggers the presupposition "John did compete somewhere."

  • Returned actions

    In Adolph called Marianne a Valkyrie, and she complimented him back/in return, too, both back/in return, too trigger the presupposition "to call Marianne a Valkyrie is to compliment her."

  • Comparisons

    In Carol is/isn’t a better linguist than Barbara, the comparison triggers the presupposition "Barbara is a linguist."

  • Counterfactual conditions

    In if the notice had only said ‘mine-field’ in English as well as Welsh, we would/would never have lost poor Llewellyn, the form of the condition triggers the presupposition "The notice didn’t say mine-field in English."

  • Questions

    • Questions presenting alternatives tend to trigger a presupposition of the truth of one of the alternatives. The utterance is Newcastle in England or in Australia? triggers the presupposition "Newcastle is either in England or in Australia."
    • Questions containing interrogative pro-forms tend to trigger a corresponding presupposition containing an indefinite pro-form. The utterance who is the professor of linguistics at MIT? triggers the presupposition "someone is the professor of linguistics at MIT."
 
Source:

Compiled by Karttunen No date and presented by Levinson 1983 181–184

Sources
 

Levinson 1983 181–184

 

Karttunen No date


Context for this page:

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.]

Page content last modified: 5 January 2004

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