Presuppositions usually appear in the deep structure of language and not in the actual surface structure, though they can be obvious sometimes. You can usually find many clues to what people’s presuppositions really are. Presuppositions are beliefs or assumptions, which support the language we hear from others or use ourselves. Presuppositions can be in the surface structure, allowing us an obvious clue. Or, they can be in the deep structure and only suggested by the surface structure of language.
Take a look at the following example.
Take the following example: “You are not going to believe this …”. Some presuppositions in this text are that I am about to say something to you. You are listening to it. Next, I know something you do not and you will believe this automatically. Also you will believe in other things as well other people might believe in it.
Questions you can ask to explore this pattern more, is going to rely on your intuition than on a specific formula of questions. One of the methods for determining presuppositions is to consider each word by itself. Determine the terms of its unique meaning. Then open the perspective up to consider each word within each natural phrase that the word occurs in. While, in terms of the found composite meaning, seek out the implications of which each separate meaning offers or implies. Then start to consider that word in the context of the whole sentence. See if what you learned at the more detailed level still holds at the broader found information.
In the example: “When do you want to have the goods shipped, today or tomorrow?” – the keyword is “or”. “Or” here implies a choice, that implies options and the options given here are “today or tomorrow”. The presupposition here is that these options are the only two worth mentioning. Bottom line, you must want to have the goods shipped today or tomorrow if you want to make that choice.
And of course some exercise for today
As an exercise today, write out all the presuppositions you can find in the following sentence. “We cannot provide you that information now, as we have to discuss this with the team first.”. Besides that, listen to every discussion you hear today and scan for the presuppositions made therein. Have fun!
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