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Indirect Meaning of the Utterance

When there is a mismatch between the expressed meaning and the implied

meaning we deal with indirectness. Indirectness is a universal phenomenon: it

occurs in all natural languages.

There can be three types of indirect meanings conveyed by a sentence:

presupposition, implication and reference.


Presuppositionis defined as an indirect proposition that can be inferred

from the sentence.

The notion of presupposition has been borrowed from mathematical logic,

according to which sentence S presupposes sentence S’ if sentence S’ can be

inferred from sentence S and negating sentence S does not affect inferability of S’.

Sentence S’ must be true, otherwise sentence S cannot be true.

e.g. John knows that Mary got married. John does not know that Mary got married.

presupposition: Mary got married.

Do you want to do it again?

presupposition: You have done it already, at least once.

My wife is pregnant.

presupposition: The speaker has a wife.

In linguistics, presupposition is a 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 and will generally remain a

necessary assumption whether the utterance is placed in the form of an assertion,

denial, or question. Presupposition has to do with informational status. The

information contained in a presupposition is backgrounded, taken for granted,

presented as something that is not currently an issue.

It is important to remember that negation of an expression does not change

its presuppositions: I want to do it again and I don't want to do it again both mean that the subject has done it already one or more times; My wife is pregnant and My wife is not pregnant both mean that the subject has a wife. In this respect, presupposition is distinguished from implication.

So, presupposition as a linguistic phenomenon is characterized by two

features, that is, 1) it can be inferred from the sentence;

2) it does not depend on negation or questioning.

Another feature characteristic of presupposition is pragmaticism, that is, the

content of presupposition is pragmatic since presupposition reflects the author’s

attitude towards what is stated or asked in the sentence.

So, presupposition possesses the following features: indirectness,

inferability, independence of negation and pragmaticism of contents. Since the first

three features do not allow any differentiation, it seems logical to classify

presuppositions according to their pragmatic contents.

Factive presupposition (factiveness)

e.g. John knows that Mary got married. John thinks that Mary got married.

Despite the identical external structure, semantically the two sentences are

different. The difference lies in the author’s attitude towards what is said in the

clause dependent on the predicate. In the first case, the author regards the

proposition Mary got married as a fact, which cannot be said about the proposition in the second sentence. The presuppositional contents contained in these two sentences is called factive presupposition, or factiveness. Predicates forming this type of presupposition are referred to as factive as well as words or word combinations expressing such predicates.

Factive words include such verbs as to admit, to amuse, to bother, to

confess, to discover, to ignore, know, to realise, to regret, etc., adjectives glad,exciting, important, lucky, proud, regrettable, remarkable. The verbs to assume, to believe, to imagine, to seem, to think and adjectives certain, eager, likely, possible,sure are non-factive.

Factiveness as any other type of presupposition is important in the study of

English syntax as a factor influencing the syntactic form of the sentence and

determining the construction’s transformation potential. For example, Complex

Object with the infinitive can be used only after non-factive verbs of mental



An emotive predicate expresses a subject emotional attitude of the author

towards what is being said that can be defined as corresponding or noncorresponding to the speaker’s desires and expectations.

e.g. John knows that Mary got married. John regrets that Mary got married.

Emotive verbs include such verbs as to bother, to regret, to resent, to dislike,to hate, etc.

Emotive predicates have some syntactic peculiarities that are absent in nonemotive

ones, for example, emotive verbs can be modified by the adverb much

while non-emotive verbs cannot.

So, the notion of presupposition allows systematizing and explaining some

semantic and syntactic peculiarities.

Implication and Inference

Presupposition is not the only type of indirect sentence meaning. Consider

the following example:

e.g. She somehow contrived to pass the exam.

The implied meaning of the sentence is that she passed the exam. However,

it differs from presupposition as it is negation-sensitive. An indirect proposition

inferred from the original utterance and dependent on negation is called


In mathematical logic, implication is a logical operation joining two

propositions into one by means of the logical connector “if… then”: “if A, then B”

where A is the antecedent and B is the consequent. In linguistics, implication is not an operation of inference, but the result of the operation.

Another type of indirect meaning is inference. Inferenceis an indirect

proposition independent of negation that can possibly be inferred from the original

utterance, but not necessarily so.

e.g. She did her best to pass the exam.

Lecture 16

Speech Acts Theory

1. Speech acts theory. Classification of speech acts.

2. Pragmatic transposition of sentences.

Date: 2015-12-17; view: 947

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