Assumptions

20 06 2010

I once did a plenary paper about “assumptions” for a Language Conference. It was subtitled: I’ll have  what she’s having, an utterance borrowed from the movie When Harry met Sally (1989), which as everyone knows was built on a mountain of assumptions, most of them false. My paper explored the often unwitting gap that stretches between what is taught and what is learned.

I was interested to read something recently, in an essay submitted by a Masters student of mine (at Anaheim University), where assumptions again take centre stage. I’ve reprinted it here, with Laurel Costill’s permission, because it’s so beautifully pithy. She writes –

Explaining how misunderstandings occur:

In order to formulate a sentence, a speaker must first evaluate how much the hearer already knows. At this step, it’s possible that the speaker evaluates the hearer incorrectly. For instance, by the speaker’s statement that the hearer looks like Selma Hayek, the speaker was giving a compliment; the speaker assumes that the hearer has the same opinion of beauty of Selma Hayek.

However, the hearer may only know of Ms. Hayek from the movie Frida and interprets the comment to mean that she desperately needs to pluck her eyebrows.

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