Pragmatic and cognitive presuppositions across discourse spheres.

  • Maria Tarantino Università e Politecnico di Bari
Keywords: Presupposition, utterance, discourse, genre, epistemic patterns


The purpose of this study is to show the relevance of presuppositions in the coding and decoding of meaning and communication. The category is framed in terms of “…a background of beliefs or assumptions which are shared by the speaker and his audience and which are recognised by them to be so shared” (Stalnaker 1999:48). The working hypothesis is that in order that communication be achieved, the participants must share a linguistic system along with epistemic, practical, sociocultural and linguistic patterns. The paper first traces the historic roots of the concept of presupposition in the work of scholars from classic to contemporary time. Next, it briefly overviews current descriptive models of the epistemic category. Through a Bakhtinian perspective of genre, it then identifies the presuppositions which govern the composition of meaning in texts from three speech domains, namely, an ordinary conversation, a scientific report and a modern novel. The final discussion touches on the epistemic, pragmatic and linguistic properties embedded in the presuppositions characterising each discourse sphere. The analysis confirms that this epistemic category determines domain restriction of meaning and characterises distinctive genre types. The significant role of presuppositions in communication supports the conclusion that they should be accounted for in applied linguistic studies. The holistic investigation of genre types could throw light on the relationship between the conceptual, pragmatic and linguistic strands interlacing discourse and enable a deeper understanding of the interaction between linguistic and extra-linguistic patterns in speech events. In turn, this awareness could favour an interdisciplinary approach to communication studies and prove beneficial for theoretical and applied research.