Presupposition In Semantics Essay

3987 words - 16 pages

IntroductionPresupposition is originated in the field of philosophy and it was proposed by German philosopher Ferge in 1892. In the 1960s, presupposition entered the area of linguistics and became a significant concept in semantics. Later in the 1970s, Keenan introduced presupposition to the pragmatics to describe a relation between a speaker and the appropriateness of a sentence in a context (Levinson: 177). Hence, presupposition can be distinguished into two categories: semantic presupposition and pragmatic presupposition. This thesis is mainly centered on the exploration of presupposition in semantics from the perspectives of features and problems of presupposition. For the sake of searching for the solutions to the problems, the writer also brings two pragmatic theories of presupposition into discussion.Part I. Two Approaches to PresuppositionIn the linguistics, two approaches to presupposition are semantic and pragmatic. Semantic presupposition views the sentence relations in terms of truth relations while pragmatic presupposition describes sentences as an interaction between individuals.A.Semantic PresuppositionIn ordinary language, of course, to presuppose something means to assume it, and the narrower technical use in semantics is related to this (Saeed: 93). In semantics, the meaning of a sentence is based on the sentence itself instead of something constructed by the participants. The semantic presupposition is only concerned about the truth value of the statements. For instance,a)John managed to stop in time.b)John tried to stop in time. (Suo: 130)In the example, sentence a) presupposes sentence b), that is to say, if it is true that John managed to stop in time, it must be true that John tried to stop in time. Meanwhile, if this proposition is false, the presupposition that John tried to stop in time still exists. However, only the truth of sentence b) doesn't tell anything concerning the result whether he stopped in time or not. Based on the analysis, we can draw a truth table for this presupposition:a bT → TF → TT or F ← TThis table is an overt description of the truth relations between sentence a) and b). If sentence a) is true, then its presupposition b) is also true. If sentence a) is false, then the truth of b) still survives. While if sentence b) is true, sentence a) can be either true or false. The interpretation of presupposition in semantics is on the basis of truth relations.B.Pragmatic PresuppositionCompared with semantic presupposition- a truth-relation approach, pragmatic presupposition is an interactional approach in interpreting the sentence relations.Stalnaker argues that presupposition is essentially a pragmatic phenomenon: part of the set of assumptions is made by participants in a conversation, which he terms the common ground (Saeed: 101). This common ground is the mutual knowledge shared by both speaker and hearer. For example, "I am afraid my car broke down." The presupposition of this utterance...

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