Rainbow Fairy

Lesson 5 - Presuppositions and Verbal Attacks

A "presupposition" is a kind of hidden statement: It's something everyone knows is being said, even though it's not in the words themselves. (I want to mention that this "everyone" is "native speakers of the language;" someone who's native language isn't English might not recognize an English presupposition.)

For example, if I said, "Even Moonwind can read that book," you know 2 things, even though I haven't said so: You know that I think Moonwind's not a good reader, and that I think the book I'm talking about is an easy one to read. So if someone says, "Even you could cast that spell," you know you've been insulted-even if you can't say exactly how.

More examples of presuppositions-keep in mind that it's the tone, not the words, that carry the insult; these can be perfectly straightforward, if there isn't any extra emphasis. The words "always" and "never" can be clues-there are very few things that people "always" or "never" do.

Are you STILL listening to THAT BAND?
o It might have been okay to like "that band" in the past, but not anymore.
o "That band" is out-of-date, and out-of-date is very bad.
o You are out-of-date (and therefore bad) if you like "that band."
Notice how you can find all that information in the short sentence… that if it said "Are you STILL watching SURVIVOR," it would carry the same impact, just like "your dad STILL drives a TOYOTA" or "are you STILL going to WIZARD SCHOOL?"

You are SUCH a PIG.
o A pig is a disgusting thing.
o You are disgusting, just like a pig.
o I shouldn't have to interact with someone like you.
It doesn't even matter if you know what the creature or object is… if someone said, "You are SUCH a RAZNO," you'd still know you've been insulted.

o I don't care what you just said.
o What you say isn't important to me.

I don't know why ANYONE would want to talk to YOU.
o There's something wrong with you.
o It's obvious to everyone.
o You should feel grateful that I'm giving you any attention at all, because you don't deserve it.

What kind of IDIOT do you think I AM?
o You are very foolish, or very stupid.
o You miss the obvious, which is that I am very smart (or wise, or skilled).
o You are lucky I put up with you at all.

Part of learning about presuppositions is learning how *not* to use them accidentally... once you know they exist, you've got no excuse for saying "I didn't know he'd take it that way!"

Task 1:
EMAIL INSTRUCTOR: Find the presuppositions in these 5 examples.
1. "Just WHAT do you think you're DOING?"
2. "If YOU'RE so SMART, tell me why you need that BOOK."
3. "Just TAKE it. I don't WANT it anymore."
4. "Oooh, everybody look at the GREAT WIZARD."
5. "DON'T take that tone of voice with ME!"

Task 2:
EMAIL INSTRUCTOR: Write 3 statements of your own which include presuppositions, and list the presuppositions underneath.

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