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Implicature vs. Presupposition

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Speakers sometimes depart from typical language patterns. In this lesson, we will learn more about 'implicature' and 'presupposition' and examine some examples of each.

Unconventional Semantics

Have you ever considered how much information is taken for granted in a typical conversation? Most people do not explain every aspect of every word they utter, but rather make assumptions that listeners will understand implied meanings and have some background information that will help make the information they hear meaningful. Implicature and presupposition are terms that are used by linguists to describe some of the less conventional semantics we use in our daily communication. Let's learn more about implicature and presupposition.

Implicature

Implicature is when a speaker implies meaning without using direct language. For example:

  • Toby is driving to his mother's house tonight.

The word driving implies driving a car.
drive

It is implied that Toby is driving a car, rather than a tractor, golf ball, or cattle.

There are two types of implicature: conversational and conventional.

  • Conversational implicature is when the speaker makes inferences through word meanings and context. For example, 'I put aside some of my paycheck to save for a new car.' The use of the word 'some' indicates that the speaker also used part of his or her paycheck for other things.
  • Conventional implicature is when a speaker uses words such as 'but,' 'still,' 'although,' 'therefore,' and 'even' to establish a relevant relationship between two clauses. Within the linguistics community, there is disparity on whether or not conventional implicatures exist or if they are a type of presupposition. For now, sentences such as the following are considered conventional implicatures: 'Sandy is tired, but she is motivated.' This sentence implies that being tired generally affects motivation, but not for Sandy.

Presupposition

Presupposition is when a speaker makes certain assumptions when conveying information to the listener regarding background knowledge. For example:

  • Jaimie's cousin brought cookies for her soccer team.

In this statement, the speaker assumes that Jaimie has a cousin, Jaimie plays soccer, and the cousin is generous.

There are six types of presuppositions: existential, factive, lexical, structural, non-factive, and counterfactual.

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