1. Lying, Presuppositions, and Lizzie Bennet Diaries

    The most recent video of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries (which is a fantastic webseries that has nothing to do with linguistics but you should check out anyway) provides a great example of some interesting things about pragmatics. Go watch the video (this post may contain spoilers for any previous videos). 

    The relevant part is here:

    Lizzie: You have been watching my videos.

    Caroline: No I haven’t, that’s why I need you to catch me up.

    Lizzie: You’ve been watching my videos and now you want to know what’s in Darcy’s letter.

    Caroline: No, I don’t.

    Lizzie: I believe an appropriate response would have been, “what letter”? 

    Lizzie’s “gotcha” response is a recognition of presupposition failure. What’s a presupposition? From Wikipedia

    A presupposition is an implicit assumption about the world or background belief relating to an utterance whose truth is taken for granted in discourse.

    A classic example is: 

    The present King of France is bald.
    PRESUPPOSES: There is currently a King of France.  

    We know that France is currently a republic, i.e. it doesn’t have a king, so it cannot be true that the King of France is bald, but it also cannot be true that the King of France is not bald. So both the “yes” answer and the “no” answer are bad responses to this question, since they both still take for granted this false presupposition. (Contextually-bad aka “infelicitous” responses marked with #).

    Is the present King of France bald? (PRESUPPOSES: King of France)  
    #Yes, he is. (STILL PRESUPPOSES: King of France)
    #No, he isn’t. (STILL PRESUPPOSES: King of France)

    In order to address this, we need to “escape out” of addressing the truth value of the statement as a whole in order to address the truth of just the presupposition. One way to do this is using the “Hey, wait a minute!” test (abbreviated to HWAM in the literature). 

    Is the present King of France bald? (PRESUPPOSES: King of France)
    Hey wait a minute! There isn’t any King of France! (CANCELS PRESUPPOSITION)

    Back to Lizzie and Caroline. Lizzie says:

    Now you want to know what’s in Darcy’s letter. 
    PRESUPPOSES: There is a letter relating to Darcy.

     However, “A presupposition must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context.” (Wikipedia

    If Caroline hasn’t seen the videos, she has no way of knowing or assuming that this letter exists, so she should not consider Lizzie’s utterance appropriate in context, and she should, as Lizzie points out, reply “What letter?” (equivalent to “Hey wait a minute! I didn’t know there was a letter!”).

    However, Caroline instead refutes only the truth value of Lizzie’s whole statement. 

    Now you want to know what’s in Darcy’s letter. (PRESUPPOSES: Darcy’s letter)
    No, I don’t (want to know what’s in Darcy’s letter). (STILL PRESUPPOSES: Darcy’s letter) 

    This lack of failure to cancel Lizzie’s presupposition is what allows Lizzie to conclude that Caroline knows about Darcy’s letter and thus that Caroline is lying about not having watched the videos. 

    Moral of the story: if you’re trying to catch someone in a lie, watch your presuppositions!

    Update: For more pragmatics analyzed through the LBD, check out my next post: The Meaning of Silence: Implicature and Entailment in Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

    1. gobonkersnow reblogged this from allthingslinguistic
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    6. spyscribe reblogged this from allthingslinguistic and added:
      The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, not just for English majors anymore! :)
    7. senseandeducation reblogged this from allthingslinguistic and added:
      I really like this, especially in light of how aggressively perfect Caroline’s grammar is in the earlier part of the...
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    9. syntactician reblogged this from allthingslinguistic and added:
      Cool. I have just today been teaching presuppositions. This would have been a great teaching aid.
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