Seminar on Presupposition

Instructor: Elizabeth Coppock (
Heinrich Heine University, Winter Semester 2011/12
Tuesdays, 16:30--18:00
Room 23.21-00.82

Office hour: Tuesdays 14:30--16:00, 23.21-04.52

Course Description

The first question we will ask in this course is, "what is a presupposition and how can you tell if you've got one?" After reviewing tests for identifying presuppositions and distinguishing them from other types of meaning such as entailments and implicatures, we will study the classic philosophical debate between Russell and Strawson on definite descriptions such as "the king of England", in which Strawson argued that they were presuppositional. Then we will track the renewed interest in presuppositions that began in the modern linguistics literature with Kiparsky and Kiparsky's (1970) work on factive verbs such as "regret". The latter half of the course will be devoted to the 'projection problem', set out by Langendoen and Savin (1971): what presuppositions will a complex expression have given the meanings and presuppositions of the parts? We will begin with Karttunen's (1973) account based on "plugs", "holes" and "filters", move on to theories based more on the discourse context including Karttunen 1974 and Gazdar 1979, and end with theories of presupposition in dynamic semantics, including Heim's (1983) landmark proposal in terms of Context Change Potentials and van der Sandt's (1992) idea of presupposition as anaphora.

Assessment criteria



11.10.2011Diagnosing presuppositionsChierchia & McConnell-Ginet (2000), pp. 17--33  Homework 1 [reactions]
Beaver & Clark (2008): 214--7
18.10.2011Diagnosing presuppositionsFrege (1948) [or German original]Seriously: Read Frege
25.10.2011Frege and RussellRussell (1905)Homework 2
8.11.2011Strawson on descriptionsStrawson (1950)Homework 3
15.11.2011FactivityKiparsky and Kiparsky (1970)Homework 4
22.11.2011Projection problemLangendoen and Savin (1971)Homework 5
29.11.2011Plugs, holes and filtersKarttunen (1973)Homework 6
6.12.2011Filtering vs. AdmittanceKarttunen (1974)Read Karttunen (1974)
13.12.2011AdmittanceKarttunen (1974)Homework 7
10.1.2012Context Change PotentialsHeim (1983), sections 1 and 2Homework 8
17.1.2012Local contextsHeim (1983), sections 3 and 4Homework 9
24.1.2012Presupposition as anaphoraIntro to DRT, van der Sandt (1992)Homework 10
31.1.2012Last day of class