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DaphneT's avatar

Inference, Assumption, Presumption and Context: how are these the same or different?

Asked by DaphneT (5441 points ) March 4th, 2012

I’ve run into a spot of trouble getting someone to understand what I say when I use long sentences or make several statements in a row. The person just doesn’t seem to grasp that the first sentence and words used have a bearing on the remaining portions and totally misunderstands me and then when trying to analyze where the misunderstanding is, decides I’m calling her stupid. Which up until that point I was not; certainly considering it afterwards! I’ve assumed that she had the same reading and grammar exercises that I had, we went to the same elementary school. So now I’m struggling to understand why I cannot use adverbs, adjectives and prepositional sentences to get my meaning across to this person. And why can I not expect her to assume or infer certain meanings for words that possess two or more definitions? We are in our 40’s, and employed, live in the same community, grew up together, we both function in society. Any thoughts? and no, she’s not stupid and neither am I.

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8 Answers

linguaphile's avatar

To answer your question:
1. Inference happens when a reader is able to fill in the unstated information. It’s like understanding the unspoken by filling in the blanks.
2. Assumptions happen when you use prior information to make a decision about new information. You have to assume something to make inferences, but they’re not the same. Faulty assumptions are the same as jumping to conclusions.
3. Presumption is an previously established opinion, whether it’s right or wrong. Assumptions are usually results of presumptions.
4. The Context is the surrounding situation. The context is the ‘bigger picture-’ I explain it to my students as: Imagine you are seeing something on stage with the curtains slightly open, exposing only 1 foot of space… the actor is frozen and you see an angry boy with his fist raised. That leads to the assumption: he is in a fight and ready to hit someone. Pull back the curtains and the whole picture is shown—everyone is screaming in victory. The whole thing is the context- they won a football game and that defines the boy’s actions.

Another example— I give you a word “LIGHT.” Ok what does it mean? You can say it means weightless and you’d be right, but it also can be light blue, light a fire, turn on the light. Without context, “light” really isn’t clear.

To answer your details: Some people just don’t have the mental faculties to hold on to a concept throughout a sentence. Their minds only can accept a certain amount of information at a time. It’s like how some people are good at chess—their minds can hold on to a long series of strategic moves and options, while some other people can’t hold on to information past one or two steps. It’s just how minds work. It has to do with individual strength of short-term memory.

I teach and see this everyday—I have to be aware of that while teaching. Some students will struggle with Dickens or Hawthorne for that reason. The long, adjective heavy, clause heavy sentences are too convoluted for them. It has nothing to do with overall intellect, but does impact reading comprehension.

marinelife's avatar

Inference An inference is a conclusion of fact drawn from words previously written or said and believed to be factual.

Assumption An assumption is taking a fact for truth.

Presumption An attitude or belief dictated by probability. Merriam Webster

Context The words or facts surrounding a fact.

JLeslie's avatar

Communication is always a tricky thing. Family members, siblings, raised in the same household with almost the exact same educational background, can miscommunicate.

You already have definitions above, I just wonder what exactly you two are miscommunicating about? it wasn’t over the definitions of those terms was it? Why do the definitions matter regarding the miscommunication with the person you mention in your question?

I think maybe, just guessing, assuming (bad to assume) that you think she should be understanding you easily. Communication is a two way street, it is not just the fault of the sender or receiver. Each person has their own filters and perceptions.

Sender>intent of message>message Receiver>words heard>interpretation of message

Best thing is to have the other person paraphrase back in their own words what they believe you mean, then you can evaluate if you think you were understood correctly. If not, then you need to word it differently for them.

downtide's avatar

@linguaphile has already defined your words perfectly, but as far as your friend’s abilities go, it may be that she has a mild learning disability, or is simply just not a verbal learner. Not everyone who has had the same education is intellectually the same. I struggle with such sentences (and chess) myself, I just can’t retain that much in my head at once.

DaphneT's avatar

Thanks all, this is helpful. I need to read up on short term memory issues.

JLeslie's avatar

@DaphneT I am so confused by your question and your last comment. Not that you need to explain, but it would be nice to know an example of what you are talking about.

DaphneT's avatar

@JLeslie, @linguaphile made a statement about how different people have different short term memory strengths. That statement triggered a research direction for me.

My question arose from witnessing two siblings have a conversation that deteriorated into name calling because from statement one to statement two the person with the comprehension difficulty could not or would not connect the two statements using inference or assumption. Myself and another person in the room made the inference or assumption and had no trouble understanding what the first sibling said and meant.

So I’m trying to come to a better understanding of the concepts of inference and assumption in conversational situations so that I get a better understanding of whether the person with the CompDiff is suffering from something more malignant than lack of sleep or stubbornness.

JLeslie's avatar

@DaphneT Sometimes emotion and past experience trigger someone to become very upset when others around cannot understand the dramatic response. The siblings have a history and a “button” may have been pushed. This is very common among family members. Add in other cognitive deficits, seems logical there might be a communication difficulty. I think you would need to ask the person why the statement was so bothersome to them. If everyone was just trying to explain over and over again what they meant, but not asking the person hurt why it is likely to not get resolved. When my husband and I have situations like that it almost always goes back to us feeling horrible as children when told something similar. Whatever is being said triggers the old feelings.

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