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Presupposing Mandy Simons

Summary: Presupposing
Mandy Simons
Carnegie Mellon University
June 2010
1. Introduction: The intuitive notion of presupposition
The basic linguistic phenomenon of presupposition is commonplace and intuitive, little different from the
relation described by the word presuppose in its everyday usage. In ordinary language, when we say that
someone presupposes something, we mean that they assume it, or take it for granted. The term is used in the
same way when we talk of a speaker presupposing something, although typically we are interested in those
assumptions which are revealed by what the speaker says. To begin with the most venerable case of
presupposing, first discussed by Frege 1892, when a speaker makes an assertion, "there is always an obvious
presupposition that the simple or compound proper names used have reference." So a speaker who says:
(1) President Obama is (not) in Afghanistan
clearly assumes takes for granted that there is someone called President Obama, and a place called
Afghanistan. These are among the speaker's presuppositions. We gather that the speaker has these
presuppositions, because it is hard to imagine any speaker using sentence (1), in either it's affirmative or
negated version, if she did not. So we might also describe the sentence itself, or uses of the sentence, as
presupposing the existence of the referents. In its affirmative version, sentence (1) entails the existence of
the referents. Given standard logical views of negation, the negated version does not. Yet even use of the


Source: Andrews, Peter B. - Department of Mathematical Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University


Collections: Mathematics