1. "Don’t deny it!" More presuppositions from Lizzie Bennet Diaries

    Today’s proof that linguistics makes analyzing popular culture more fun is brought to you by episode 95 of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. (Post may contain spoilers for any previous episodes.)

    In this episode, Caroline attempts to get Lizzie to reveal her devious machinations through clever use of presupposition. The relevant lines are: 

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    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: 

    Have you stopped beating your dog yet?
    PRESUPPOSES: At some point you beat your dog.  

    If you’ve never hurt an animal in your life, there is no good yes-no answer to this question. (Contextually-bad aka “infelicitous” responses marked with #).

    Have you stopped beating your dog yet? (PRESUPPOSES: beating dog)  

    #Yes, I have. (STILL PRESUPPOSES: beating dog)
    #No, I haven’t. (STILL PRESUPPOSES: beating dog)

    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). 

    Have you stopped beating your dog yet? (PRESUPPOSES: beating dog)  
    Hey wait a minute! I never beat my dog in the first place! (CANCELS PRESUPPOSITION)

    Back to Lizzie and Caroline. Caroline says “Don’t deny it!” where “it” refers to Lizzie’s supposed attempt to seduce Darcy.  

    C: I’ve watched your videos at Pemberley Digital. It’s pretty clear what you’re doing. Everyone can see it.

    L: What are you talking about?

    C: Don’t deny it. 

    L: I’m not. Or I am? 

    Denying something presupposes that the thing is true, just that you don’t want to say that it is. For example, let’s compare these two sentences:

    The children denied that they saw a unicorn. 

    The children said that they did not see a unicorn. 

    The children knew that they did not see a unicorn. 

    In the “said” sentence, the children could be telling the truth or they could be lying. In the “knew” sentence, the children are definitely telling the truth. However, in the “denied” sentence the children are most likely lying. We can see this because both “yes” and “no” answers presuppose that the unicorn-seeing happened.

    Do you deny that you saw the unicorn? (PRESUPPOSES: saw unicorn)

    #Yes, I deny that I saw it. (STILL PRESUPPOSES: saw unicorn)
    #No, I don’t deny that I saw it. (STILL PRESUPPOSES: saw unicorn)

    So Lizzie is caught between a rock and a hard place. She can agree that she is denying, or reject that she is denying, but there isn’t any yes/no response that rejects what she actually wants to reject: the idea that she was seducing Darcy in the first place. Hence her confusion about how to respond. 

    Don’t deny that you were seducing Darcy! (PRESUPPOSES: seducing Darcy)

    #Yes, I’m denying that I was seducing him (STILL PRESUPPOSES: seducing Darcy)
    #No, I’m not denying that I was seducing him (STILL PRESUPPOSES: seducing Darcy)

    If only Lizzie had known about HWAM.

    Hey wait a minute, I wasn’t seducing Darcy in the first place! (PRESUPPOSITION CANCELLED)

    More linguistics and LBD, mostly Lizzie/Caroline: Lying, Presuppositions, and Lizzie Bennet Diaries, The Meaning of Silence: Implicature and Entailment in Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Why don’t we say “orangehead” instead of “redhead”? Gif via

     
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