Conditions and motives for the exploitative use of presuppositions

31 May 2024
Conference Room

Conditions and motives for the exploitative use of presuppositions

Presuppositions can deliver not only background information but also the main point of the utterance (Simons, 2005). While this exploitative use of presupposition is nothing new, the present study examines of circumstances where presuppositions are used in this manner and the probable motive for such conduct. This study first demonstrates the conditions for the exploitative use of presuppositions to emerge, which only happens when a particularized conversational implicature (PCI) can be generated from this presupposition and this PCI is (part of) the communication purpose of the utterance. However, when the presupposition carries the main point, it does not mean that the remaining part of the utterance becomes insignificant; instead, it becomes the assistance for an appropriate comprehension of the entire utterance, as a modification of the remaining information can still lead to a different interpretation of the utterance. This reconciles with Mazzarella and Domaneschi’s (2008) suggestion that presuppositions need a pragmatic reading for a wholesome understanding even when it comes to the linguistic presuppositions (e.g., again, too). In the end, embedding the main point in a presupposition can render the main point defeasible, which may be a motive for this move. In this situation, it is the PCI that the speaker aims to communicate, and the presupposition returns to be just background information when the PCI is cancelled by the speaker (Levinson, 2000). This can be convenient when the main point needs to be expressed discreetly with an opportunity of withdrawal, e.g. when the message conveyed might be face-threatening. The exploitative use of presuppositions involves manipulation of common ground, which can contribute to the study of intercultural communication where emergent common ground (Kecskes, 2013) is prevalent as common knowledge is created synchronically in the situational context.



Kecskes, I. (2013). Intercultural Pragmatics. Oxford University Press.

Levinson, S. C. (2000). Presumptive Meanings: The Theory of Generalized Conversational Implicature. The MIT Press.

Mazzarella, D. & Domaneschi, F. (2018). Presuppositional effects and ostensive-inferential communication. Journal of Pragmatics, 138, 17-29.

Simons, M. (2005). Presupposition and Relevance. In Semantics versus Pragmatics (pp. 329-355). Oxford University Press.